Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Film Socialisme

The socialism of the film is the undermining of the idea of property, beginning with that of artworks... There shouldn't be any property over artworks. Beaumarchais only wanted to enjoy a portion of the receipts from Le Mariage du Figaro. He might say, "I'm the one who wrote Figaro." But I don't think he would have said, "Figaro is mine." This feeling of property over artworks came later on.  (JLG, h/t Craig Keller)

A film that also could have been titled Babel, the relations humans bear to one another here is juxtaposed with the relations that animals (parrots, owls, cats...) might hold for people, the implacability of the animal's gaze, the enigma of sentience.  Ultimately this is a problem for the way a society organizes itself because one must deal ultimately with the impossibility of knowing another, or at least, some other, and nevertheless getting on with such indeterminacy.  The first part of the film takes place on a cruise ship - a possible figural allusion to statelessness (1) (2), and to the crucial distinction that might be placed in thinking about society vs. the state (brought up explicitly at one point in the film, 3).  Godard understands, though, commitment to a state; if one's concern is something like justice, the mass ties of law-geography-commerce-emotion-media that comprise a state are not to be labeled as always and in all situations any one thing.  A difficulty emerges in refusing to think outside of the paradigm of the nation-state as the limit of all sociopolitical organization - the nation-state, the market, and nothing else ...

"If this ultimate determination were a truth valid for every society, the relationship between the determination and the conditions making it possible would not develop through a contingent historical articulation, but would constitute an a priori necessity.  It is important to note that the problem under discussion is not that the economy should have its conditions of existence.  This is a tautology, for if something exists, it is because given conditions render its existence possible.  The problem is that if the 'economy' is determinant in the last instance for every type of society, it must be defined independently of any specific type of society; and the conditions of existence would be that of assuring the existence and determining role of the economy - in other words, they would be an internal moment of the economy as such; the difference would not be constitutive."  (Laclau & Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, 2nd ed., p. 98)


A film that could also have been titled JLG/JLG pt. 2, which reminded me in parts of Joris Ivens' masterpiece A Tale of the Wind, a sweeping and yet modest retrospective on long threads of problems which have concerned a filmmaker.  Problems which butt up against each other, frequently - problems of aesthetic representation which sometimes appear to be antagonistic to problems of class struggle or other struggles.  If the promise of wealth redistribution is a fog that permeates contests over social justice, the "other struggles" may clear away such fog by all manner of lights, in the process of their own manhunts alerting those who would wish to flee.

"The unsatisfactory term 'new social movements' groups together a series of highly diverse struggles: urban, ecological, anti-authoritarian, anti-institutional, feminist, anti-racist, ethnic, regional or that of sexual minorities.  The common denominator of all of them would be their differentiation from workers' struggles, considered as 'class' struggles.  It is pointless to insist upon the problematic nature of this latter notion: it amalgamates a series of very different struggles at the level of the relations of production, which are set apart from the 'new antagonisms' for reasons that display all too clearly the persistence of a discourse founded upon the privileged status of 'classes.'  What interests us about these new social movements, then, is not the idea of arbitrarily grouping them into a category opposed to that of class, but the novel role they play in articulating that rapid diffusion of social conflictuality to more and more numerous relations which is characteristic today of advanced industrial societies."  (Laclau & Mouffe, pp. 159-160)

Basic, simple film analysis ... which can of course be brilliant ... proceeds from the supposition that an immediately intelligible text yields mysteries upon close inspection which can then be insightfully resolved - or at least proposed - upon even closer inspection.  Thus His Girl Friday becomes a text ( -> His Girl Friday' ) which becomes once again a work of art ( -> His Girl Friday" ).  But why must this model of film analysis apply in every instance, that is, why must a film - every film, each film, every time, each time - subject itself to the demand that it yield its first set of secrets, relations, themes, immediately?  I can think of logical reasons why a person might prefer movies that telegraph their meaning so that we can presume to know their basic meaning by the time of the first reel change, and definitely by roll of the end credits.  But I can think of no logical reason why this must become the standard by which all films everywhere should be judged, especially when the film itself - with its overlapping sounds and texts, its richness of allusion, its diversity of visual registers - seems to indicate to us that, no, it is not that type of movie.  It invites certain forms of confusion, and it invites repeat viewings.  This is not something new for Godard and yet it still bothers people, even those who (one would think) would at least be bright enough to have learned their lesson already.  And yet one reads the texts that comprise the (mainly) thoughtless reception Film Socialisme has received, and the mind boggles.

"Text on screen is the degree zero of disembodied voice."  (Roland-François Lack, "Sa voix," For Ever Godard)

If not through the portal of immediate intelligibility, into depth, how might one construct a case for the worth of Film Socialisme?  One might talk about pleasure.  (A lot of film critics and pretenders to film criticism have acquired puritanical positions with regards to pleasure, so that it must be integrated wholly into a coherent narrative, or at least made "edifying," in order to receive its reward of praise.)  There are a lot of sounds and images of great beauty in Film Socialisme, and may be an incentive to repeat viewing - even skimming, if we acknowledge the fact that so many people are seeing this work on digital files? - so that one can gradually arrive at a more cohesive of what's happening, the way one might with Benjamin's Arcades Project.  One might talk about surface: Film Socialisme is like a web of allusions, connections, contrasts, not "deep" at all in many common, critical senses of the word (for there is no psychological profundity here, as the director himself openly acknowledged).  Its depth, as such, projects into history - trying to sketch some roots for "what is there" (an empty auditorium for a lecture by Alain Badiou, dance floors on a cruise ship, a blonde kid wearing a Soviet Union t-shirt, a YouTube video of talkative cats).  Godard's "material" is outward, not inward.  This is not to say that there's no text here, but I suspect one will find mainly only frustration if one tries to locate a skeleton key for "why Godard did that / made that incomprehensible / doesn't just say what he means" inside the text itself.  The structure is like a lattice: intricate criss-cross patterns whose nodal points are recognizable, but whose overall gist is not comprehensible unless one also notes that which is visible beyond the lattice, between it.  One fills it in.  One might even use Film Socialisme, though it offends some sensibilities to think that a non-instructional film might be utilized for anything other than a night of relaxation.  (Yes, yes, it also offends some other sensibilities that a film might indeed be used for a night of relaxation.)  But perhaps to see what happens one must know how to look.  The pleasurable work begins ...

"If I had to plead in a court of law against charges of filching images for my films, I'd hire two lawyers, with two different systems. The one would defend the right of quotation, which barely exists for the cinema. In literature, you can quote extensively. In the Miller [Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller, 1976 - JML] by Norman Mailer, there's 80% Henry Miller, and 20% Norman Mailer. In the sciences, no scientist pays a fee to use a formula established by a conference. That's quotation, and cinema doesn't allow it. I read Marie Darrieussecq's book, Rapport de police [Rapport de police, accusations de plagiat et autres modes de surveillance de la fiction / Police Report: Accusations of Plagiarism and Other Modes of Surveillance in Fiction, 2010], and I thought it was very good, because she went into a historical inquiry of this issue. The right of the author - it's really not possible. An author has no right. I have no right. I have only duties. And then in my film, there's another type of "loan" - not quotations, but just excerpts. Like a shot, when a blood-sample gets taken for analysis. That would be the defense of my second lawyer. He'd defend, for example, my use of the shots of the trapeze artists that come from Les Plages d'Agnès. This shot isn't a quotation - I'm not quoting Agnès Varda's film: I'm benefiting from her work. I'm taking an excerpt, which I'm incorporating somewhere else, where it takes on another meaning: in this case, symbolizing peace between Israel and Palestine. I didn't pay for that shot. But if Agnès asked me for money, I figure it would be for a reasonable price. Which is to say, a price in proportion with the economy of the film, the number of spectators that it reaches..."  (Godard, ibid.)

"I will have to make rather extensive use of quotations.  Never, I believe, to lend authority to a particular argument but only to show fully of what stuff this adventure and I are made.  Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs.  Allusions, without quotation marks, to other texts known to be very famous, as in classical Chinese poetry, Shakespeare, or Lautréamont, should be reserved for times richer in minds capable of recognizing the original phrase and the distance its new application has introduced."  (Guy Debord, Panegyric)

7 comments:

Jaime said...

Great read, Zach. You may have seen, I gave you a plug on Facebook. That seems the only place I can get the word out to folks these days...

Jaime said...

By the way, have you checked out Richard Brody's Godard book? It's great - a thorough biography-via-filmography - that, among other things, sketches out a real man behind these allegedly standoffish-inaccessible films and videos.

Brody is a great thinker AND appreciator of the movies, something his magazine (the New Yorker) has needed for a while.

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks Jaime. Have you seen Film Socialisme then? What do you think - or are your thoughts on the Interwebs somewhere that I've overlooked?

Haven't read Brody's book, mainly because I heard a lot of unflattering things about it and its author's methods - have you read this, for instance? But one day I'll probably give it a whirl.

blank frank said...

Please proceed directly to the section on "dangling modifiers" in your Strunk and White.

Jaime said...

Zach, I haven't come across that, I'll read it when I get the chance. Perhaps it is a problematic book - I was ignorant of that idea, but I'm also okay with it. Godard was a complicated guy and I have no illusions that even a well-researched and thorough bio can do him justice, although Brody is quite frank about some of JLG's not-great character traits, some nasty shit he's said, etc.

Full disclosure: I'm moderately acquainted with Brody through Twitter and I like him. I just glanced at Krohn's mention of anti-Semitism and I don't think Krohn and Brody would have an unintelligent conversation on the matter.

Jaime said...

Oh, and I loved FILM SOCIALISME. Haven't written about it. Experientially it's tops but I don't feel well-armed to "tackle" it. Recommend Michael Sicinski's review from the 2010 TIFF:

http://academichack.net/TIFF2010.htm

(scroll halfway down, about)

Zach Campbell said...

Blank Frank, my apologies for the stream-of-consciousness sloppiness of the entry. What do you think of Godard's film?

Jaime, Sicinski's take is a really good primer. I half-thought about doing something more like that when I sat down to write this entry, but I didn't have my head around it as well as he did.