Wherein bon vivant Ben Livant and I (Dan Jardine) speak our minds about movies, mostly.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Welcome to Godard 101, an unofficial and unaffiliated online undergraduate seminar where Ben and I take on the great man and his works, doing our best to understand how Jean-Luc got from there to here. First up, Ben and I take a look at the film that, along with Francois Truffault's 400 Blows, blew the roof off the joint back in 1960, kicking off the Nouvelle Vague and recreating cinema. Pretty heady shit. For those interested, Godard 101 begins here, with our take on Breathless.
Next up: Pillow Talk, française style.
A Woman is a Woman (France, 1961, Jean-Luc Godard)
Then Ben Begins:
I must first say that this film really made me laugh. It's entertaining as all get out and pretty consistently hilarious. One scene in particular brought me as close to peeing myself as any humour ever has. I was literally gasping for air. Monica had to stop the disc in order for me to catch my breath. Besides it had become utterly impossible for me at the same time to watch the pictures, read the subtitles and listen to the soundtrack.
It is the latter, in my view, that is the key to the film in general and especially what makes it funny in particular. There is no shortage of amusing camera trickery and solid-schtick sight gags as well as genre-tweaking highjinks in the screenplay. But the truly brilliant gimmick of the film is the juxtaposition of the soundtrack. Whether blaring out some fantastically inappropriate musical doggerel - Michel Legrand did the score and proves himself to be a mad genius - or cutting out altogether, dialogue included, the audio track for the whole film is the real star of the show.
Even more than seeing a character's clothing instantaneously change as the person re-emerges from behind a chunk of wall (both physically incredible and narratively inexplicable), even more than conversation that sometimes comes close to William Burroughs' cut-up technique (moving in between heavy existential ponderings and near meaningless trivialities), even more than interior set designs and colour washes that scream so loud they're just one MGM musical this side of surreal (Spike Lee copped this indoor palette and brushed it all over the hood in Do The Right Thing) - the unrelenting silliness of what we hear, and don't hear, in relation to what we see is what makes A Woman is a Woman the wonderful wacky movie it is.
As for the substance of the picture, there isn't much. If it seemed reasonable to question the political ramifications of violence in Breathless, or lack thereof, nothing in A Woman is a Woman calls out for similar attention. The aesthetic deconstruction is even more ennunciated, but since the object of the irreverent juggling is not grim Noir but rather the likes of Rock and Doris in Pillow Talk - both in the credits and the dialogue A Woman is a Woman calls itself a "musical" but it ain't; only one song is sung and this in a strip club as part of the act there, it's a bedroom farce - well, there I said it; the thing is not too shy about its content being so much cotton candy.
It's the ol' battle of the sexes around love, marriage and baby-making, except with the notoriously French disrespect for the necessity of the middle term. Throw in the emerging promiscuity of the youth culture that was coming of age in the 60s and A Woman is a Woman manages to square the circle; cheeky about not upholding a standard for female fidelity and male chauvinist about motherhood being the whole purpose of life for a woman. Interestingly enough, pregnancy also comes up inBreathless and in both films both of Belmondo's characters toss off some grossly insulting comments about women. So, moving forward in GODARD 101, I will keep my feminist blinkers on.
Only two films into the course, already I have to slap myself upside the head about how ignorant I have been. The sheer audacity of Godard is still staggering. To say he was ahead of the curve misses the point. He was the curve! And to say that he made bold innovations that would influence his would-be peers, the subsequent generation and even generations to come is not merely an academic understatement. It is to neuter away the powerful aesthetic threat is his work that has been technically appropriated, culturally domesticated and ultimately rendered safe for mainstream commercial applications.
It can't be an accident that the director switched directions just as Hollywood started to make room for others to immitate isolated aspects of his cinematic reconfigurations. Godard himself would realize soon enough that radical rearrangements of existing artistic forms would not be enough to generate images of revolution. But in the meantime, Jesus, the nerve of the guy! In it's way, the inverting bricolage syntax of A Woman is a Woman is as challenging to comprehend as the allusive consciousness stream of an Eliot poem - and it's a light and fluffy confection! Or should I just observe that Belmondo's character in A Woman is a Women mentions that he was watchingBreathless on televison and towards the end of the film the other male character says he doesn't know if the film is a comedy or a tragedy but he is sure that it is a masterpiece?
Love, Parisian Style.
The film begins ``once upon a time`` and the table is set for a fable. And while the film is ultimately a bit of a trifle, the meal is an undeniably delightful confection. Godard is clearly having a blast as he whips up this frothy concoction.
In A Woman is a Woman, Godard continues what he began in Breathless, blending the old and the new, both stylistically and thematically. And while he hasn`t yet found much to say, he sure does say it with panache. The film`s themes, however slight they might be, revolve around the evolution of gender roles in the early sixties, and the contradictions that emerge between those assigned by society and those pursued out of personal desire.The film is wonderfully playful as it teases out this tiny thread of an idea. The story unfolds in a boarding house setting, where the central character`s neighbour is entertaining a steady stream of young men who enter and exit her room in a various states of undress. The contradictions between old and new take human shape in the form of Angela (the luminous Anna Karina), a single striptease artist, the very image of a modern girl, who paradoxically yearns to have a baby with her resistant boyfriend Emile (Claude Brialy). And while Angela apparently wants to establish a traditional family with Emile, she is the epitome of ineptitude in most matters domestic, as she ruins the roast dinner, and intentionally drops its intended replacement on the floor. Further adding to the conflict of conventional and contemporary mores, Angela determines that if her boyfriend will not supply her with the domestic happiness she seeks, she will get his best friend to impregnate her. Wrapping things up, the film`s resolution of this sexual conflict is an equally goofy and playful merger of traditional and unconventional.
Two pieces of business that highlight the charms of A Woman is a Woman also examine the issue of conflict and communication pointedly. The first occurs when Angela amusingly employs a Socratic technique of inquiry to lead Emile to understand how she has ruined his roast dinner and the second unfolds as the pair of lovers use book titles to communicate their feelings of anger and frustration. It is out of the conflicts, contradictions and paradoxes that we can catch glimpses of Godard`s mission. Once again, he is toying with the conventions of genre, this time musical comedy and sex farce, as well as the language of the cinema, in order to challenge our preconceptions about what the story should be about and how it should be told.
Throughout, in what has quickly become a familiar refrain in Godard`s films, he insists on reminding us that we are watching a movie, whether that is in his toying with the form with a-synchronous sound or through absurd pieces of stage business, such as the magical closet that changes the entrant`s costume in the fraction of a second. Also, the characters recurrently break the fourth wall to look at the camera or address the audience, while Godard repeatedly references and parodies the beloved Hollywood musical comedies that inspired him to make this film. This self-consciousness and reflexiveness, can be seen in Belmondo`s winking mention of his intention to watch Breathless later that evening, or in Jeanne Moreau`s cameo, wherein she references her current work on Jules and Jim with Godard`s colleague Francois Truffault. Truffault gets another nod when Shoot the Piano Player is twice mentioned, first when one of that film`s co-star Marie Dubois makes a brief appearance, and later when Angela`s love of the film`s other co-star, Charles Aznavour, leads to his musical appearance in this picture. Again, as with Breathless, we see Godard as the deconstructionist.
Again, as with Breathless, Godard`s irreverence is borne out of affection for the genre, not disdain. He deconstructs the musical comedy form throughout, mocking its artifice and affectations, in a parody that is as ultimately gentle and kindhearted as his lead actress. If A Woman is a Woman is a musical (or `the idea of a musical`as Godard himself put it), this is the sort of high concept musical that drops the music away when a character sings, and where characters dance, but with no choreography (or discernible skill for that matter.) This is a film where discordance is as important as melody, where ineptitude is as vital as talent. The form is being turned on its head, just as the gangster film was given the once over in his debut film. Just as old sexual values are being challenged by the new, Godard is attempting to reinvent familiar cinematic tropes.
On the evidence of Breathless and A Woman is a Woman, Godard has not yet clearly determined that he has something substantive to say, but we sure get to have a lot of fun while he is figuring it out. Still, if Godard is going to show that he deserves to be considered a master chef, he will need to stop tinkering with the appetizers and move onto the main course.
Welcome to Godard 101, an unofficial and unaffiliated online undergraduate seminar where Ben and I take on the great man and his works, doing our best to understand how Jean-Luc got from there to here. First up, Ben and I take a look at the film that, along with Francois Truffault's 400 Blows, blew the roof off the joint back in 1960, kicking off the Nouvelle Vague and recreating cinema. Pretty heady shit. Kinda makes you Breathless, no?
Breathless (France, 1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
And Ben Begins:
Could it be that I am simply predispossed at the outset of my self-imposed "Godard 101" course to be much more impressed by Breathless than the first time I viewed it a few years ago? Perhaps my first experience of the film was too burdened by its reputation and my own need to confirm this intellectually. All I know is this second time I was captivated by the sheer vitality of the thing, quite an achievement a half a century later.
Considering that Godard will finish out the 60s by completely commiting himself to a genuinely revolutionary political position, the merely punk attitude coming out of the aesthetic adventures and cultural cross-references of Breathless is today still a remarkably strong pulse of youthful energy that has the power to inspire. Fifty years after the fact, it would be easy to emphasize the ironic aspects of the film but I believe this would be misplaced. Not irony but rather irreverence is fundamentally at work. The entire affair is a manifesto about acknowledging the rules in order to break them, quite the opposite of the post-modern business nowadays that mocks the rules mercilessly while all the time obeying them. New wave? Damn straight! Still new. Still modern.
Having lavished this praise, it would be irresponsible of me to overlook the chief limitation of the picture. We can blame the problem on Godard's adherence to certain documentary-like techniques in the service of his quest for a new form of realism - from the largely improvised dialogue to the then-novel/now-legenday jump cuts and more besides - but the problem remains. The characterizations are stylistically and erotically attractive but fundamentally hollow.
No doubt, a deeper conceptual project is conditioning this, a Brecht-imitative approach that intends to disenchant the audience with respect to the drama. Sounds good in theory but up on the screen the result is wooden. I will go further and say that it undermines the very realism sought after, providing a purely formal take on human interaction instead of a substantive personal psychology, socio-historical context and so on. In short, the romantic couple are a couple of sexy meat puppets. Contributing screenwriter Truffaut's love of Hitchcock is too much in evidence.
Indeed, the ongoing references to Hollywood screen icons and adoptions of genre conventions are not even quaintly amusing anymore. At one point the petty French criminal rags on his ambivalent American girlfriend how Americans love the shallowest features of French culture, citing Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier as examples. Well, the same could be said in reverse about Breathless itself. No wonder Godard would renounce in 1968 his infatuation with Film Noir and the likes of Humphy Bogart. Cool stuff to be sure, but only so fertile for realism that aims to be radically critical of the actual world in which we live and die.
Nevertheless, there are a few outstanding lines spoken in the film (e.g. "Informers inform, burglers burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.") and of course, some very neato-keano cinematographic business; circular tracking, peep-hole tele-photo shots, reflections on glass, all cool. So, at the end of the day, I was thoroughly entertained. I have been led to understand that after 1968 Godard could care less about entertaining his audience, so focused he became on educating and activating them. I will have to look at some of this more openly propagandistic material to determine if this is accurate. In the meantime, I give the artistic merit of the entertaining Breathless its due.
And then Dan Weighs In:
A quick caveat. I'm writing this having only very quickly scanned your review, so if I do not engage with any of your "talking points" do not despair. After I've finished this off, I promise to take a closer look at your piece.
It has been decades since my first viewing of Breathless. I was young and cynical at the time, a relative novice to what I am going to call, for lack of a better term, significant cinema, but certainly interested in it, albeit in a superficial and wary way that smacked of my affected and mostly phony world weariness. It was the 80s, after all. and in world run by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, this seemed to me the only plausible position to strike. Don't let the bastards get you down? But the bastards won the goddamned war!
While I didn't reject Breathless the first time I watched it, and definitely found the film's anarchic energy and jazzy, beatnik-influenced approach hard to resist, I was not completely smitten with it either. I found the central characters, while undeniably gorgeous, beneath that veneer, rather trite. And the film's lack of forward narrative movement was, to put it kindly, a tad off-putting. To be blunt, I found long stretches of the film rather boring. Lotsa yakking, but where was the action? The adventure? Where did Godard hide the STORY? Too much "blah blah blah" and not enough "YA YA YA!"
Turns out, to steal some wisdom from Zimmerman, I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
Clearly, at that time, and unlike now, I was not in the right place to appreciate what the film was all about. And what this film is about is loving irreverence. Breathless is a satirical homage, a peaceful attack if you will, on all that Godard loves and hates, admires and rejects about youth, pop culture and more specifically, the movies.
The way that the overgrown adolescent Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) rapaciously gobbles up the world around him, from his imitation of the Bogie posture, to the gangster poses, and his rebel without a pause enthusiasms (primarily for those icons of American culture, cars and sex) is indicative of Godard's contradictory impulses. He loves Michel's primal drive and undeniable charisma (not to mention his beauty), but tweaks his childishness and lack of intellect. "I like the old" says Michel when a street vendor tries to sell him a copy of Cahiers du Cinema (a publication for which Godard served as a film critic for several years.) And while Patricia (Jean Seberg, every bit Belmondo's equal on the attractiveness front) is more intelligent and curious about the world, there is an ethical softness and inconsistency about her that ends with her curious and nearly inscrutable decision to betray Michel. Why does she call the cops? Perhaps the answer is in the response of the writer Parvulesco (played by movie director Jean-Pierre Melville) to Patricia's question about his ambition in life. "To become immortal, and then to die." Michel, whose actions guarantee his immortality, can now die. Or perhaps Patricia is telling the truth when she suggests that she is using Michel as a lab rat, to test whether or not she loves him. Not so much, it appears.
Further enhancing our sense that Godard is poking some fun at his leads, underscoring the action is what must have been a Godardian parody of the sort of Hollywood jazz score popular at the time, full of the sort of broad emotional punchlines that are supposed to tell an audience how to feel at any given moment, but which in Breathless stand in stark ironic contrast to the vibrant, edgy film before us. And for all their posing here as youthful Parisian rebels, the two characters seems entranced by the culture they are attempting to defy. Like bugs in amber, Michel is trapped by his obsession with noir tropes in general, and Humphrey Bogart in particular, while Patricia is still wrapped up by her love of the latest fashion, whether clothing or literature. While the characters (and/or the camera recording their story) are in seemingly constant motion, these are people going nowhere. They are doomed because they are not able to rise above, or wriggle out of, the roles they have taken from (largely American) popular culture around them. Murderer's murder. Burglar's burgle. Lover's love.
Is Godard, at the grand old age of 30, mocking the youth of his day? Or was he relishing in their blind rebellion, their deliberately unfocused denial? Well, as I like to suggest whenever I am presented with deliberately false dichotomies, the answer could very well be both. It think Godard clearly likes these characters, and identifies with their anarchic impulses. The authority figures, represented primarily by the police officers, stand in stark contrast to our heroes. They are unattractive, bumbling fools throughout, and their ultimate success has almost nothing to do with their talents and abilities. On the other hand, Godard lavishes some of his most seductively complimentary camera work on the protagonists, shooting them with such affection that he is defying us to ignore or dismiss them. Further, the film winks broadly at the lover's various pieces of illicit business, from murder to theft to sex, actions that would have these characters branded as tragically flawed in almost any other contemporary cinematic context. While his affections are not unconditional, Godard clearly loves these characters.
From a formalist's perspective, Godard comes to this, his first film, damned nearly fully formed. While not as audacious and polished an effort as Citizen Kane (and while they seem lifetimes apart, Orson Welles' debut was made only 18 years prior), Godard's Breathless is nonetheless, at least stylistically speaking, a remarkably confident and mature effort. I cannot think of another film that puts the camera in motion as frequently and effectively as Breathless. Cinematographer Roual Coutard deserves lavish praise for his work here. Not only does he manage the nifty trick of giving the film a documentary style naturalism, shooting on location guerrilla style, he also delicately frames a series of carefully designed, loving and iconic shots that must have required a tremendous amount of planning. Breathless combines realism and artifice in a rare display of apparently contradictory approaches to storytelling. The film manages to feel at once immediate, vital and spontaneous, while also boasting scenes that must have required elaborate effort and great planning. Apparently, the filmmakers even went so far as to put the camera in a wheelbarrow, so they could get the tracking shot they wanted at the angle they needed. Freewheelin' indeed. Everything is in motion; no wonder the audience, like the main characters, is breathless by the end of it all.
And when he's not chasing his characters around the streets of Paris, he puts his editor to good use, chopping the more static scenes up with a frenetic series of jump cuts. Sometimes these cuts are used to get an action sequence over with as quickly and efficiently as possible so he could get back to what really interested him. At other times, the cuts, which on occasion mimic the image of film stock stuttering on the cogs of a projector, are more self-conscious and reflexive, indicating slight shifts in time or space that may be Godard's way of playing around with principles of cubism (multiple angles on the same subject reveal that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose), but more likely serve to remind us of the fact that we are watching a movie. These jump cuts became the film's signature advancement, and there is a beautifully musical quality to them, with the cuts often synchronized to the beat of the score or the rhythm of the dialogue. Sometimes the cuts are even lined up to the movement of the characters within the frame. Masterful stuff, this.
And it is one helluva film. True, the story does not get any less flimsy with the passage of time, and our heroes remain more caricatures than characters, but Breathless propels itself across the screen with such recklessness and defiance that anyone who loves movies, and wants the art form to remain viable and continue to evolve, must ultimately submit to its many charms.
I could say more, but I'm gonna call it quits for now. It's been a long time since I've been in the saddle, and I don't wanna stay too long and give myself blisters in sensitive places.
So nice of you to ride back into town. Hope you hopped off your horse in time to save yourself those blisters in sensitive places.
You owe me nothing and you owe it to yourself to respond to the movies without me getting in the way. Besides, believe it or not, I am relieved that you are not making me revisit my commentary onBreathless. My head is swimming in 1967.
And from this vantage point, I can highlight a couple of your points that I think are correct and absolutely essential when taken together for appreciating all of Godard. (By "all" I mean the curriculum of GODARD 101, the 1959-1967 New Wave.)
"Breathless combines realism and artifice in a rare display of apparently contradictory approaches to storytelling."
"...the [jump] cuts, which on occasion mimic the image of film stock stuttering on the cogs of a projector, are more self-conscious and reflexive, indicating slight shifts in time or space that may be Godard's way of playing around with principles of cubism (multiple angles on the same subject reveal that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose), but more likely serve to remind us of the fact that we are watching a movie."
Forgive me for pointing us so soon in the direction of the thesis of my term paper for GODARD 101. Your first point is based on the implicit understanding that realism is one thing and artifice another. What are the jump cuts then? I ask this in reference to your more likely insight about them. They serve to remind us that we are watching a movie. Is this artifice or realism? What's the big idea behind Godard's self-conscious and reflexive playing around?
Regarding the jump cuts, I'll take artifice for 100, Alex. What it all means, I'll have to reserve judgment until I've waded a little deeper into the pool.
I've done a little reading up on the matter of the innovative use of jump cuts in Breathless, and have learned that there was a practical function behind their use as well as an aesthetic one. Godard's first cut of the film was 30m too long, so rather than cut out scenes, he chose to simply remove moments within certain scenes that could be excised without losing anything of significance from the movie.
Wiki labels Breathless a "romantic crime drama." I do not disagree with this classification for one minute, yet it has to be said in the same breath (heh heh) that the film has a strong element of comedy. While it takes its erotic dimension very seriously, pushing against the moral boundries of the day with respect to sexual matters, the crime drama is pretty much a running joke. I mentioned Hitchcock before, but now it has to be said that Breathless can't even be bothered to posit a McGuffin of interest that allows for a dynamic plot, nevermind any sort of meaningful character motivation. Clearly, Godard is making fun of the entire ethos of the crime drama he so adores. In other words, it's ironic.
By making this plain now, however, I do not mean to contradict what I said in my first installment. I still maintain that rather than irony, irreverence is most fundamentally at work. In short, the crime drama of which Godard makes fun, he continues to adore. For all the punk attitude brashly on display, Breathless remains merely punk insofar as it amounts to so much youthful immitation that makes a virtue of it's inability to convincingly replicate its role models. Not to be crude about this, but what was the budget for the film? You get my point.
This brings me to the topic that especially concerns me; namely, the action. Is there anything more expensive to shoot than action? The question of the production economics of Breathless is at its most intrusive when it comes to the action depicted, for the latter is without doubt the weakest aspect of the film. In the first place, the action is barely depicted. It goes by so fast, it would be reasonable to surmise that the director simply didn't have the financial resources to spend on doing it justice. This explanation is hardly adequate though. Not just brief, the action is weak, lame even. Why?
Whether one thinks it is due to an artist intentionally making a strength out of a weakness in response to necessity or an artist intentionally following a conception that sets out to overturn existing standards, I think it has to be agreed that Godard made the action lame in Breathless intentionally. One argument for this would be that the Noir from which he is taking his cue relied more on suspense and hard-boiled dialogue than on action scenes. Even more, precisely choreographed and well rehearsed action scenes are exactly what he wants to avoid given his "adherence to certain documentary-like techniques in the service of his quest for a new form of realism," noted previously. The sloppiness and limpness of the action in Breathless reflects a conscious move away from anything staged on behalf of the verisimiltude attending spontaneity.
Might have been good in theory, but up on the screen the result is definitely lame. So lame, in fact, I want to push the issue further. It would be easy to dismiss the issue by concluding that this romantic crime drama is mainly about romance and hardly about crime. But knowing as we do that Godard is going to become a fully politicized film-maker, I decline this easy out. "Action" is a euphemism for violence, and while I think it is dangerously reductionist to hold that politics is just violence by other means, it is nothing but naive to overlook the facts of force that condition all political affairs and make violence an ever-present potential. As of 1968, Godard is going to take on the capitalist state ideologically in the cultural field. So what gives in 1960 with the wimpy almost silly violence? I ask this question without having an answer, at least not at this time. Perhaps I will be able to come up with an answer as I progress through my Godard 101 course of study. This is to announce that whilte watching his pre-1968 films in chronological order I will be paying particular attention to his treatment of violence to see if I can detect his evolution towards Maoist Marxism as revealed on this issue.
If realism is realistic about anything, it is realistic about violence. The violence of escapist "action movies" is either predictable (the out-numbered, individualistic good guys win and live while the over-stacked corporation of bad guys lose and die) or momentarily false or cartoonish (nobody actually gets hurt in a sequence of comic relief). Conversely, the violence of realist film is either unpredictable (cosmically random or between relatively equal forces) or all too predictable (between explicitly unequal forces). In Breathless, the scenes of violence viewed separately are unconvincing to the point of stupidity and viewed collectively are incoherent in terms of the difference between realism and escapism.
At the very least, it has to be critically registered that the youthful energy that gives the film its pulse fails to deliver when it comes to the action. It just falls flat. For all the stylistic risk-taking and dangerous heat coming off his swagger and her sashay, the punk attitude of Breathless is ultimately compromised by the absence of any sort of authentic threat of violence. I suppose this was experiened at the time as a brand-new, oxymoronic cinematic tone; a light and breezy atmosphere for a heavy and serious situation, and this helps explain the popularity of the film upon its release. But there is too much dark, distorted passion in the picture to get away with a dim-witted feel-good reading - hey, she rats him out and brings his doom - and the incoherent status of violence in Godard's first feature is pronounced.
Thanks for your review(s). I'm glad you had the gumption to revisit a film that was not so overwhelming for you the first time through. Such gumption is not often rewarded, so I'm happy you found much to praise.
As for your inquery into the film's lame action sequences, I think I can shed a thin ray of light on what Godard was up to here. I believe that he was playing with and attempting to subvert the very language of the cinema (particularly in the editing choices) in some of these scenes. Take the early chase scene with the cops going after the protagonist in the stolen car.
As you note, Godard holds true to the cinema verite style of the neo-realists in his use of natural light, real locations and hand held cameras throughout much of the film, and all of this scene. The camera (and hence the POV) seems to have no mooring here, moving from inside the car to the outside world without any particular rationale. There are some blurry pans and several disorienting quick edits, including some jump cuts, that are again used without particular attention to the action (these moves certainly don't increase the tension in this sequence.) At one point, the sun shines directly into the camera, a real faux pas at the time (it was only with the popularity of Peckinpah and Leone's westerns that such a move became de rigeur in the 60s). Further, the police are shown traveling in one direction, left to right--the traditional movement of characters in western cinema--then they are seen moving right to left, as the camera has, again for no apparent reason, been placed on the other side of the road to record the action. The same happens later when Belmondo sees the cops coming from one direction, and then a few seconds later, they are shown arriving from the opposite direction. It is, as I mentioned above, more than a little disorienting, as we cannot ever be entirely comfortable spatially. There's also a jump cut between Belmondo grabbing the gun and shooting it, as the fatal blow is elided, as we only get to hear the gunshot. Through it all, Belmondo never seems to break a sweat, his casual performance appears improvisational, and borders on non-acting.
Godard, being an intellectual who is a rigourous student of cinema, knows exactly what he is doing here, and I posit that he is attempting to break down the rules of the form he love so much, in order to let us know that it is ALL on the table now, from subject matter, to form. In order to build a new cinema, we will need to first tear the old one down.
I hear you giving me the textbook lecture on Godard's self-conscious deconstruction of cinematic grammar, and I deserve to be given this rap considering that I have signed up for Godard 101. But as I've indicated, my approach to the course is retrospective from the fact of the Maoist Marxist he will become. And I reckon by the early 70s Godard himself would have criticized your explanation of the ineffectual action in Breathless as a rationalization that is convincing only if the inquiry is limited to the requirements of bourgeois formalism.
What I am proposing is that Godard purposefully downgraded what should have been a central role for violence in his nouveau-realisme film because he had yet to orient himself in the world politically. You have seen many of the films I am scheduled to see. So you have some idea while I haven't a clue if Godard's 1960-1967 films increasingly become overtly political. I am speculating that they do. What is more, I am speculating that violence in his films will become more explicitly and confidently addressed; not necessarily in extended treatments and certainly not in conventional presentations, but there will be more ot it in varied contexts and the film-maker will deal with it less ambivalently.
And (finally) Dan:
As for your central thesis, all I can say is that I hear you too. My analysis was borne out of what I think was going through Godard's head at the moment that he was making these choices, rather than through the lens of his future political metamorphosis. But I can say that from what I've seen, there is both a consistency AND an evolution in his approach towards action and violence in his films. The irreverence you speak of (and yes, this is a MUCH more accurate word than irony) remains largely intact (in the comedies, at least), but there is definitely much more than that going on in the action sequences of these later films--from the little I've seen, anyways.
Then (Again) Ben:
Yeah, both of our ways of approaching the subject are probably equally valid. Or equally invalid. Or invalid but not equally. You have the audacity to write the words: " ...what I think was going through Godard's head at the moment that he was making these choices..." As if you could possibly know this. But I'm even worse. You are going after the developing aesthetic content of the director's mind in what was his present. I am going after the truly more suspect undeveloped political content of his mind with 20/20 hindsight.
Et maintenant, le trailer pour A Bout de Souffle, :