Friday, May 30, 2014

Current Happenings

* For those of you in Dallas, Godard's Alphaville is screening for a week at the Angelika thanks to a fresh new print from Rialto. Incidentally, it's the next DVD in line on my Netflix queue, though I may just have to cancel it and settle for the film on the big screen. For such an important director, I've actually seen very little of Godard's work. Alphaville will join a short list that includes Breathless, Band of Outsiders, 2 or 3 Things I know About Her, and In Praise of Love. For sure, simply seeing these four films gives one a pretty good taste of Godard, and yet I feel the only way I could ever come to actually like him as a filmmaker is if I saw all of his movies from all of the decades (Godard, it should be said, has one of the most diverse filmographies of any director. Each decade he seems to feed off of what he did before while also introducing an entire new part of him, both in terms of style and thematic interests). Today, I feel there are more people who are suspicious of Godard than ever before (or simply admire his contributions to cinema but aren't personally drawn to his work), and yet there are still a handful of quite brilliant people who consider him a movie god. A person can say this about, say, Kurosawa, while consuming his work passively, and yet to worship Godard one must study his films meticulously in and of themselves as well as within the context of his entire career. Thus, I feel I do not have the right to dismiss Godard based on what I've seen, even though part of me sort of wants to. I suppose at this point I find him amusing. His ideas and concerns are nice, and yet since when have ideas been enough in art? How can one dismiss his obvious pretensions, his annoying visual techniques, and his ego simply because he's saying something worthwhile? If I were to write a paper for a class, would it be acceptable for me to toy around with grammar, voice, and overall sentence structure simply because I believed I was saying something great? Again, at this point, I'm too much of a Godard neophyte to really judge him, which is why I'll simply say I find him amusing, even funny. 

I recently watched his six-part interview with Dick Cavett from 1980, and what I got from it was that both Cavett and myself were more entertained than enlightened by Godard. For example, one point of interest in the conversation for Godard was why politicians campaigning for the presidency are not comfortable making movies when they're perfectly fine appearing on television for debates, interviews, etc... It was part of his argument that people have a fear of images, and yet it came across as a superfluous question, the kind that is more entertaining than useful (however, it did lead Godard to make one good point in which he asked if politicians weren't just acting on TV in response to Cavett's point that it would not be fitting for politicians to act in a movie during a campaign). Later in the interview, Cavett asked Godard about his dislike for Apocalypse Now. Godard answered, in his typically opaque manner, that the movie did not cost enough, that Coppola spent 40 million, which was the payroll of "American embassy in Saigon for one afternoon," according to Godard. He wanted it to be 40 billion dollars, which would be closer to what the American war in Vietnam was really about. If Coppola does not have that kind of money for one film, then he'd better do two or three million movies. Godard is getting at an important point, namely the United States overspending in Vietnam, and yet by and large his answer to Cavett's question is simply funny, a finely calculated joke. 

* To get off this Godard tangent, I'm currently reading David Thomson's The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, William Faulkner's Sanctuary, and, at long last, Patrick McGillan's biography of Nicholas Ray, brilliantly titled The Glorious Failure of an American Director. Concerning the latter, while I'm not too deep into it just yet, there's already some brilliant stuff in it about Ray that I was completely ignorant of, such as his relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s. To (chortle) get back to Godard though, on the back cover of the book is his quote "Nicholas Ray is the Cinema." As ambivalent as I am about the French icon, one thing I surely do love about him is his championing of so many American filmmakers, most of all perhaps Ray. 

* It's summer vacation (my last before I'm a college graduate!), which means there's finally time for things like spending a week rewatching all the Bresson and Dreyer films, or getting The Big Easy and watching it twice in a row (it's a great film, I'll hopefully post something about it soon), or finally really digging into Tarkovsky and Visconti. 

*Summer also of course means more time for venturing out to the theatre. While last year was the first summer that I didn't go see a single blockbuster (I love big Hollywood action movies, but they need to have good energy, and last summer I just didn't care enough), but this year I've already seen one, X-Men, Days of Future Past. It was a blast, while also making the case that great acting can really do a ton for a blockbuster. One critic said that if there were more superhero movies as good as this one, we wouldn't be complaining about there being too many superhero movies. Agreed. There's not a lot of other big summer movies coming out that I really care about except for the the new Planet of the Apes, which I'm guessing is just going to be amazing. Boyhood though is really the one I'm looking forward to, but as a whole I think it's already been decided that the cinematic experience of summer 2014 goes to The Immigrant

*If you're looking for a great summer movie to watch at home late at night, stop searching and watch Joe Dante's The Hole. The title is terrible, but the movie itself is terrific, an intelligent, original throwback to the kind of fun summer movies Dante was making in the 80s. I was initially curious as to why this never had a major release in America when back in the time of Gremlins it probably would have been a huge hit. After seeing it, the answer is clear: Dante is taking far too many risks and dealing with far too sensitive a subject matter for studios to put this in a large market. It bespeaks just how safe mainstream cinema has become. 

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