Tuesday, May 01, 2007

185. "How My Light Is Spent"

How can I discuss the bliss of my ignorance without sounding like a fool? Does it matter that I reject, with disgust and even fear, the millennial Bronx cheer of what-EV-rrrrrr? Can I defend myself by announcing that I try not to indulge in the near-cleverness that leads one to know just enough to provide snappy answers to stupid questions but not enough to ask--let alone answer--the smart ones? And am I rescued simply because I have always wanted--cliche of cliches--to be wise enough to know when to shut up--and because I also know this, too, is not enough--at least not enough to bother anyone else with the tamed yawps such tepid wisdom can manage?

Here, though, is what I am smart enough to know: Those things I love that I do not understand hold me like a simple object gently in the palm, and measure my inconsiderable heft, and toss me in a long arc; and I am happy while in flight. But even midair my ignorance is grave as it enjoins me to glance left and right at the disapproving eyes following my blue-sky trajectory. I understand the proprieties that come with being Your Humble Viewer, but this feeling, that maintains I cannot simply love a movie but must understand it, can deaden me to the core of, as Nathan Arizona would put it, my "whole Goddamn raison d'etre."

And I will take advantage of this phrasing to bring us to the matter at hand: the French New Wave. I know how important it is; I yearn to sit down and read read read all about it--because this is one more thing I know: la nouvelle vague est tres importante, as fundamental to any real appreciation of cinema as, say, film noir or John Ford. And more than that: It is distinctly Modern, if not Modernist, and so reading about it is as important as it, itself.

But I have at least watched a number of New Wave films, including Cleo from 5 to 7, Alphaville, 400 Blows, Bob le Flambeur, Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Shoot the Piano Player, Last Year at Marienbad, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg--and Godard's Breathless, My Life to Live, and, just recently--and the one I want to write about today--Band of Outsiders. And for the moment I find some small strength in this list, something I've earned by watching the movies. So I will read read read, some day, but in the meantime keep watching--humbly, as always, but with blind joy--after all, when a better writer than I will ever be considered how his light was spent, he bore his mild yoke, and stood and waited, serving all the time. I should be so lucky.


With each Jean-Luc Godard film I watch, I become sadder. This may be a perfectly legitimate response; after all, as in Band of Outsiders (1964), two things--wait: three--seem to be happening at once:

a movie,

a discussion of the movie

(--and, by extension, movie-making), and

a deep regret that the discussion ever occurred

(--coupled with an exhilarated lack of regret).

And that may be five things, and the contradictions may cancel each other out, until I have nothing left to say, but this minor film noir love-triangle/heist movie jumps off the sidewalk like firecrackers when it turns to itself interrogatively--and to us, asking us to consider the relationships among the narrative, the way it's filmed, the effect of voiceover, the impact of the actors on their roles--and the actors' acknowledgment of an audience, perhaps even of their own presence in a film. Add to that the contrite--or self-consciously trite?--attempts to regain all necessary distances--between narrative and audience, technique and experience--interrupted by the film itself, which refuses to settle down and simply be the movie, and we have an attempt at guerrilla warfare on moviemaking, freezing all cinematic elements until the only movement is somewhere in the director's eye, a reflection--but one we will never see, stuck even further than behind the camera: alone in the audience, with just whatever the movie leaves us.

I cannot explain this; I cannot even explain why I like each Godard film I see better than the one before it. But when the two crooks and their accomplice/victim line-dance in some little joint, solemn as any self-conscious performance, but matter-of-fact, almost carefree, while the narrator forces the music to cease while it speaks, cluing us in on the characters' thoughts--presenting them so flatly we suspect either the thoughts themselves or the fact that those are actually characters with thoughts--or even the narrator's account of the thoughts--I find all three--or five--of those things I think I know crowding in, making me smile--then asking why I'm smiling. And at the end, when murder will out, I am relieved by the choice of survivors, but wonder if I have overstepped my bounds by feeling anything. I cannot simply assert that Godard is a clever-clever cold sonuvabitch: I enjoyed Band of Outsiders too much. This isn't Stanley Kubrick with monumental precision, like the builders of the Pyramids, framing his disdain with the perfect cold of a star's light. Godard works too fast, and tumbles in too much. Again, all I can explain is that I want to see another, and another. I am back to bliss, even though I have to close my eyes every once in a while--the humblest viewing of all--as it all passes by, handheld and measured in meaningless seconds, a blind sprint through the Louvre.

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