Friday, December 31, 2010

Year's End

(or - no lists here, exactly ...)

These days as before there is a deep gulf between "Hollywood" and myself. Still, the screen on the other side of that gulf is constantly present.  I can turn my back for a time but there it remains to be seen.  So I've started to cultivate my relationship with this creature on the other side, my neighbor.  I think I saw more multiplex releases in 2010 than I have in a decade.  This number - not remarkably high - is significant in the context of my own viewing habits so I'll write a little about the implications.

I understood what I was in for as I entered the theater for Piranha 3D, Kick-Ass, or The Expendables.  I took what pleasures I could from them.  But even some of the more ambitious films that I managed to see (and admire), such as The Social Network, failed to move, unsettle, or surprise me on profound levels.  Maybe it's just because James Gray didn't make a movie this past year.  Looking back over Hollywood's hospice-bound body of late, the self-consciously "classical" glories of something like We Own the Night seem more and more precious, although the youth of today have decided that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the masterpiece of tomorrow.  And I'm not trying to pick on Scott Pilgrim.  I admit I didn't like the film much, but I've other targets in mind should I go hunting.

I also don't need to treat something like Inception as a whipping-boy here, because a number of my readers doubtless share my apathy towards the film, and those who might love it won't be dissuaded by me.  Suffice it to serve as an example, though, that might clarify the difference between two types of conceptually-driven genre films.  Compare it to Tony Scott's Unstoppable, which presents almost nothing we haven't seen before.  In fact almost everything in Unstoppable is to be found in prior Tony Scott films.  

All the same, I have to come to truly appreciate the unscrubbed textures of Scott's recent movies, which by comparison to similarly "high genre" Hollywood films seem to be rooted to some idea or image of actual places, actual times and histories and political situations.  I don't claim that Man on Fire is a serious or realistic take on "the situation in Mexico," or that Unstoppable and The Taking of Pelham 123 have powerful statements to make on labor and bureaucracy in rural Pennsylvania or New York City.  Obviously not.  But Scott's movies energetically play with differences between reality or actuality and fantasies of their representation.  It is no coincidence that in the Scott corpus over the last 10-15 years, the control room, command center, and editing suite are figured into the narratives (literally & metaphorically).  These movies explicitly address desires to control (perhaps impossible), to see and to locate and to know.  They efficiently, sometimes imaginatively narrate ways that people experience and deal with the co-presence of mediated sounds, images, and information.  Some years from now I imagine that, if you compare a film like Inception to a film like Unstoppable, the latter will yield up much richer insights into our young century, our spectacular condition.  The myths at root will prove more pliable, more durable, more ingeniously worked into the texture of the object.

That said, my favorite recent films were generally not from Hollywood, nor from clear-cut genres - unless one counts the "art film" as a genre, which is a fair proposition.  As much as parts of Step Up 3D dazzled me, and though Johnnie To's Vengeance was wonderful in a minor way (compared to Exiled, which is wonderful in a major way), the treasures among the recent films I've seen in 2010 seem a bit old hat, in the sense that they're mainly art films from Europe and Asia, generally directed by established male directors, which primarily wowed (or caused controversy) on the festival circuit before finding commercial distribution ... if at all.  Still, even among these strong films by Haneke, Denis, et al., there were two especially that stood out and unsettled me, surprised me in the best ways.

New films of the year:
Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard) and Butterflies Have No Memories (Lav Diaz)

Technically Diaz's film is from 2009 on the world scene, and I only saw the shorter version as part of the omnibus with (good) films by Hong & Kawase.  But I'm counting it as new enough for my purposes.  I could continue with a small list of "honorable mentions" and a much longer list of notable films I haven't seen, but why bother?  (OK, I should note that I have not yet seen Certified Copy.)  Most films I saw this year were older ones.  And since cinema in any given year always includes that which has come before it, existing still with it, I'll go ahead and pick the two stand-outs in this category as well. 

Old viewings of the year:
Ornamental Hairpin (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Billy Wilder, 1970)

Both of these films exist, for me, in a rarefied pocket of film - or art - that is delicate, subtle, and fundamentally decent.  The films of Ozu and perhaps Mizoguchi exist in this sphere (and so now Shimizu, also); certain key ones by Lubitsch and Ford; a few others - what ultimately draws me to these movies is how seamlessly I experience their many pleasures as moral axioms. 

And on a final note: over 2011, Elusive Lucidity will try more often to cover work along the lines Kramer-Jacobs-Jost-Wilkerson-Gianvito. I know a lot of political commentary, and political engagement with our audiovisual culture, has fallen a bit by the wayside on EL, but I think this has been the necessary consequence of letting mental batteries recharge ... 

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Came Running (2)

If in the twenty-first century we were to try to shoehorn Some Came Running into the famous Comolli-Narboni classification system, what category might we place it in?  What are the indicators that this film is fundamentally of its system ... or critical of it on level of form ... or perhaps critical of it on the level of "content," but even more skeptical in terms of its formal coherence?  I am unconvinced that we can ascribe fixed political significance to a work of art without any audience, engaging with and using the text.  But this is the sort of question that nags for a reason.  It presumes some kind of intentionality, or at least consequence, for the object in question.  When the dust of film history finally settles - in a few centuries or in a few years - the second nature of classical Hollywood's foundational status will be a very alien thing indeed.  How would one explain to the children of the 24th century the differences between Tashlin and Taurog, between Phil Karlson and Felix E. Feist, between Sinatra and Vince Edwards, between even MGM and Monogram?  Sure, the evidence of Hawks is on the screen.  But one must be primed to receive that evidence.  (The task could be greater - I imagine contemporary art, after the collapse of civilization, will be utterly incomprehensible to even the most tireless of Mad Maxian Vasaris.)

The broader legacy of Cahiers criticism - which is not necessarily the best possible legacy of its best work - entails a set of stances and polemics.  The positional of this criticism has frequently outshone the substance of the Cahiers' positions themselves - which is why, when people these days tend to talk about "auteurs" one is inclined to hear comments like, "The auteur is the ultimate producer of meaning in a film - and I do/don't agree with that."  (If I "don't," it's because "film is a collaborative art form.")  Thought gets replaced with a few protocols of taste and expression on the part of the critical viewer.  I would be happier, myself, if one were to redirect the line of questioning to something like, What questions in this body of cinema may we draw out?  (I am a firm believer that the brow height of one's object of analysis is almost completely irrelevant.  The worth of the question one asks is paramount.)  Because if the broad legacy of Cahiers criticism, and/or of formalist or auteurist criticism, is to find and appreciate "recognizable styles," what gets lost is the historical particularity of the dominant, classical Hollywood cinema.  The slightly hermetic, circular quality of this reaction - industry versus style, a rehashing of art versus commerce - somewhere gets forgotten in a ditch.  The particularity of Hollywood rose to the level of universal application, so much so that film aesthetics and history are almost always discussed in constant relation to industry.  (Not always in an explicit way, certainly not always in a politicized way ... but there you have it.) 

After the classical Hollywood cinema is long gone from the memory of those living, and exists only as it has been handed down (mutating) from generation to generation of viewers, what will be the point of picking out a recognizable style from this body of cinema, which will look fairly coherent against the contrasts of wider audiovisual media culture?  The whole of cinema will present a very different way of apprehending a "figure" (a style, a film, an author - an object to which we direct our concentration) and "ground" (the cinema, the society, etc.).  For the mid-century auteurists the inevitability of Hollywood cinema constituted its "ground," and this is how the entire polemic of authorial styles and "men of cinema" came to be negotiated at that particular moment - in France and in anglophone contexts.  But the cult of distinctive style, when ripped from the context of a culture and an industry and a tradition that helps produce it, quickly dissipates as a critical methodology.  If Vincente Minnelli is worth talking about - and he is! - it is not because his films ("his" films?) exhibit abstracted aesthetic merit independent of their context.  It is because his name and the work to which it is appended connects a number of threads in a vast network.  These threads of distinction under his very nomination (as author-figure) also connect to innumerable other names, protocols, and groupings.  And Some Came Running, to return to the example at hand, presents a series of sensual and intellectual passages, movements through eye and ear and mind which morph through different layers of "text," in and out of the "text," with considerable dexterity and richness.  I would not say it's an inexhaustible film, but it would take many more than my two viewings for me to get a sense of when it could be exhausted.

Dana Polan proposes that "widescreen composition serves as a signal of Dave's inability to open up to others, to let emotional engagement with other people into his life, and to even notice such people from within the protective space he has built up around himself."  The substance of this composition is - as Joe McElhaney has it - a balance between decor and actor.

If one looks at a lot of shots from Some Came Running, one sees the actors frequently cut off by objects (occasional bit part actors) in the foreground.  These objects are not obtrusive; the formal technique is not meant to be ostentatious in the way that might induce "distance" or "parametric style."  It stands in contrast to many films with big, multi-talented stars, where musical numbers or other show pieces might have the effect of a dramatic "blue screen," i.e., the star's the thing and we have a very explicit figure/ground distinction.  I think that Some Came Running's style of blocking and framing prompts one to contextualize the performances differently.  In a film full of characters with big personalities, and a few big stars, constantly embedding their bodies in weighty space helps to keep the film from seeming, well, "vehicular."  That is, the charismatic nodes of Sinatra-Dave, Martin-Bama, and also Maclaine-Ginny are maintained within the body of the melodrama.  While a viewer may be very keenly aware of the Rat Pack metatext here, the form works to finesse (not ignore) that sort of energy.

Upon the film's release, critic Richard Coe of the Washington Post criticized it for having "three vivid personality extensions, but not, I think, real acting."  It could be that the leads in this film do not offer "real acting" - and big movie stars have rarely ever offered this according to whichever conventions of "real acting" are en vogue - the best to be hoped for is usually more along the lines of a meaningful, rich, complex, audacious, or otherwise bold utilization of a star's image by the larger film itself.  Make the interplay between star and character like a mobius strip.  Consequently, regardless of how much or how little one might know about a star's "star text," the film itself - in this case Some Came Running - is highly readable as a study of expansive personalities.  The star excess that surrounds the film is implied by the narrative and the mise-en-scene as well.  But these latter don't "express" the star excess so much as work simultaneous to it, and with it, and with each other.  There is no beginning to this film (unless one means the running time), no origin or basis; its text is porous, a house with more thresholds than we can see from any one vantage point.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Came Running

Some spoilers follow.  A man of letters returns to his hometown because his buddies sent him thataway on a bus while he slept off a crazy night in Chicago.  Some Came Running balances between a number of transitions in American history.  Sinatra's Dave Hirsh is a former writer and an Army veteran - upon arriving at the hotel he lovingly takes Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, out of his duffel bag.  One of his love interests, Gwen, is a schoolteacher. 

(Great male writers in worn editions.  It would have been a fine joke if Minnelli or someone had included a James Jones in there.)

A connotative, ghostly thread running through this plane is that of the postwar boom in higher education: the GI bill, intellectual self-improvement a la Mortimer Adler, manly literary concerns - these last are mirrored by the "frigidity" of Gwen, whose participation in the world of mind & letters seems to negate her ability to retain a healthy sexual autonomy, according to the logic of the world portrayed.  Gwen can only be depicted as a woman who "wants it" (and wants the man), but can't "admit it."  This sexist balancing act also echoes in a movie I half-watched last night, Delmer Daves' 1959 A Summer Place (both films feature Arthur Kennedy in an unlikable role), where a comparatively healthy middle-class stance on sexuality as voiced through Richard Egan's character, is counterbalanced by the monstrous sexual puritanism of Constance Ford's.  In Some Came Running, male characters constantly express disappointment with the women they've decided cannot meet their standards, and so must "choose" - between the Maclaines and the Hyers.

(Sinatra visually paired with the mobile Greyhound logo; Maclaine's character Ginny is just as rootless and mobile as Dave, but because she doesn't - can't - have recourse to a rational, educated, critical mind, her rootlessness is a demerit in the long-term.  She's a "pig," as Dean Martin's Bama would call her.)

This promise of male achievement - re-asserting baseline authority in the home in the post-WWII years, but also maintaining the virtue (or value) of mobility, self-propulsion - is met with crisis from the moment of its first expression.  A generation of higher ed students received an experience at colleges which they have then wished could be sustained and replicated, as a number of older cultural conservators indicated after the radicalization & subsequent "taming" of the University - these conservators with their dismissals of cultural studies, postmodernism, relativism, and so on.  (It's not that these critics in tweed have no good points; it's that their critique is also completely predicated on an unrepeatable time and place, rather than bearing a sustainable, timeless universality.)  Some Came Running reflects a rootedness to this period in US intellectual & public life.  This was a period of grown men given access to college life and college education, reading great writers, receiving great ideas.  The problem with this is that men become dissatisfied with the idea of marriage as well.  And yet, because men and women are not socially equal counterparts in this situation, the male dissatisfaction with marriage is expressed as a re-articulation of dominance, and a new set of complexes to work through.  The man expresses himself as complete in this paradigm, whereas women are divided a priori into types, never fully complete in comparison to the man.  If she were, she would be intimidating - a competitor rather than a partner.  A story like Some Came Running evades any reality of strong-minded, sexually independent, educated women ... either this is because the entire premise is sexist from the outset, or because the film deliberately addresses this imbalance and places it in a larger cultural dialogue of respectability versus garishness, and the socially-sexist privileges accorded to men, primarily, in negotiating that dialogue.  (I think both are true, and overlap in ways that make this movie so fascinating.)

So, as both explicit theme and as symptom, Some Came Running moves through a particular historical matrix of mobility (both class & geography), normative gender roles, and the powers & pleasures afforded by sanctioned knowledge.  The socially visible battleground of these markers of social, human difference is respectability (at the top: bohemians versus upstanding citizens).  The less visible arena is sex: when Dawn spies her philandering father in the dark (and the father & secretary turn the lights out in the jewelry shop as they're about to leave), or when Dave and Gwen consummate their ultra-brief courtship ...

(Once sex becomes the central, explicit focus of the scene, the lights dim dramatically, "unrealistically.")

"Dave, you have a very exciting talent."  Dave, like Bama, can flee from intimacy at any moment, because they experience themselves as complete and have the imprimatur of rational judgment on their side.  The women, who may have the faculties but no sanction, must therefore express their own dissatisfaction only as symptoms of their perceived lack or shortcoming.  Thus, Gwen is frigid, uptight, unloving; Ginny is sweet, good-natured, pathetic, but ultimately incapable of mounting a defense against Dave's machinations.  The film makes this imbalance between the men and the women palpable.  Though the script doesn't verbalize this judgment explicitly, I have a hard time thinking that anyone could come away from Some Came Running feeling deeply disconcerted with the state of things.  Not every person is likely to come away with the same class/gender critique I have scribbled out here.  But there is a whole system of wrongdoing here, nonetheless, and I think it's a recognizable dimension of the film.  (Pedro Costa: "For me, the primary function of cinema is to make us feel that something isn't right.")

(Bright lights, high stimulation, low class: Dave Hirsh isn't a happy camper, despite the unmitigated selflessness of Gwen's love, which he treats like the carnival itself - fun, cheap, utilitarian.)

A common application of cross-cutting in commercial movies is to show a father or husband racing to "save" his special lady.  The climax of Some Came Running uses a similar principle.   (It's a wonderful scene for its crowd control.  That looks & feels like an organic crowd!)  I have not read Jones' novel but I hear that Dave gets it at the end.  In Some Came Running, the excessive sentimentality of Ginny's intervention somehow brings to the foreground everything that "isn't right" in this world being depicted.  Minnelli corrals the actors brilliantly in this sequence: the acting styles converge with character positions seamlessly.  (Sinatra - too cool, detached, dissatisfied; Martin - also detached, but in a different way, driving his car through a crowd of pedestrians; young Maclaine - trying so hard, excessive self-diminution; the mobster from Chicago - all frantic, focused, quiet intensity, the physical embodiment of the dangerous, mobile male, looking to enact his will for no other gain than the satisfaction of enacting it.)  Ginny-in-white turns her back to protect her new husband, falling "helplessly" into his arms after the shots are fired (she propels herself, she throws herself, she is herself propelled by the bullets) ... the first time I saw this film it felt painfully abrupt.  Too much, too fast, too unfair.  It's beautifully controlled and in pacing works in great counterpoint to the leisurely tone of much of the preceding movie.  This kind of pathos seems mawkish, telegraphed, yet utterly effective, and entirely in keeping with the logical progression of the film's themes and plotlines.  Suffice it to say that Some Came Running operates on multiple levels. 

Of course I make all these suggestions without having done any research, without referencing other writers, without having fleshed out any of the implications of my comments to see where they might work - or fail - as an explanatory set of patterns.  This is the difference between scholarship and between the speculative, first-draft criticism I'm sketching out here.  One aims in either case to start making connections.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Million Little Ruptures

In Leap Year (a lite treacly touristic rom-com - I didn't finish watching but I imagine it's one of the worst movies of recent years), Amy Adams and Matthew Goode walk up a hill to a castle.  The modulation from moment to moment is based upon emotions that are arrived at, and then left behind, easily.  That is, quickly.  An entire aesthetic of both editing and performance revolves around the quick and, sometimes, deft "sampling" of emotional cues.  My sense (and it's fine if it feels a bit too Frankfurt School on first glance) is that this is because the context of emotion is usually left wholly unexamined in mainstream film & TV.  Only a false sense of "contained" emotion is to be respected. Emotions do not build upon each other; they do not have texture - the audiovisual, gestural archive of emotional cues is large enough at this moment to be drawn upon without elaboration, without narrative.  We already see what a pouting lip means, what a raised eyebrow might mean, what a threatening posture entails ...the biggest aesthetic threat to competent film & TV acting is that people often hit these cues thoughtlessly and yet treat them as a register of "knowing" performance.  This is a problem even in good examples.  Party Down, my favorite TV comedy of the last several years, spreads itself thin when it indulges in the aesthetics of the awkward stare - a tired gesture, especially, after this past decade.  The moment when something embarrassing or strange or gauche happens, the camera holds its gaze upon a character or two - stand-ins for the smart viewer - who give the same old face, the sort of face that JLG & JPG might have analyzed in A Letter to Adam Scott, were it to have been made.  (Adam Scott - an actor I do like! - was also apparently in Leap Year, but I didn't watch long enough to get to him.)  I must admit that I love a lot of stuff that partakes in this kind of gestural shorthand (like Party Down, like Ricky Gervais' shows) but I await the next development in the "smart mainstream," one that will hopefully exhibit some distance from the over-worked arsenal of faces, gestures, and picture frames.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


One of the least bearable "types" in US film acting is what I'd call the Jack Black stock.  I think I've only found pleasure once in the performances of Mr. Black himself - in Shallow Hal, where all of his bad qualities as a type are brought out explicitly in the narrative and directed against him (and then, in truly Farrelly fashion, embraced in a sincere, sentimental humanism that is still light years ahead of most of the Hollywood game).  When you see the style deployed by the guy in this beer commercial, don't you want to wretch?  (Maybe you also want a cold one; that's understandable.)  This is all unfortunate for yours truly because I do enjoy dumb, puerile comedies.

But bad things can often be fertile ground for good things.  Out of the whole Jack Black phenomenon - if it can be called that - there has emerged Chris Pratt's turn as Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation (NBC).  He plays a rock-n-roll man-child - immature and affectedly casual.  The acting requires time to work, to notice the levels at which Pratt is performing Dwyer's own performance.  Pratt's Andy is a remarkable comic portrayal of the Jack Black "type," but given fuller dimension - one needs a script to spell out confusion, guilt, or pathos for Black.  With Pratt, it's already built up in his eyes and in his body.  He stiffens & puffs up - like a child imitating an adult - when he's rewarded with authority or responsibility.  He can only pretend maturity in most cases.  This arrested development is played for laughs in any individual moment, but taken cumulatively it becomes touching.

(Plus, Pratt is Anna Faris' beau.  That is one fine comedic couple.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So Long, Blake Edwards

Thank you for all the funny, sad, beautiful dreams you gave us.

Sans noblesse

Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like a relatively recent development in US culture - or perhaps it's the culture of the Facebook nation? - to wear the label of "snob" lightly now.  If one makes distinctions of quality between things in a set, one is invited to smirkingly excuse one's snobbery.  If you love fine wines, you say are a "wine snob."  If you like art films or critically acclaimed movies, you are a "film snob."  I saw a commercial a while back in which a guy who likes brand names identifies himself as a "clothes snob."  You can be a pancake snob, bottled water snob, pho snob, design snob, or a music snob.  The appellation tends to address the products one consumes.  That is, you can be a snob about the sorts of things you can also "like" on Facebook.  This common meme is about tastes more than a concrete sense of class position, income, etc. A snob is not anymore an uptight, haughty, profit-seeking yuppy, but that yuppy can be a snob if he prefers to drink only the finest wines, in Reidel glasses.  It is as though the distinguishing feature of the snob is no longer that he feels that those who diverge from his tastes and practices are inferior as persons, or that he pretends refinement & connoisseurship to gain in status, but merely that he seeks and trusts in his ability to make evaluative distinctions.

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)