Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde

Aurthur Penn's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde is the first American film to be directly inspired by the films of the French New Wave (notably, to me, Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou and Weekend, which in turn may have been inspired from the original Bonnie and Clyde story).

Beyond its obvious influences, Bonnie and Clyde is a very erotic and sexual film. Here, we have bank-robbery-as-sexual-fetish, all the persuasion Bonnie Parker needs to ditch her quiet life and take off with the tough yet impotent (though I am not aware of his alleged sexual shortcomings, I have read he was supposedly a bisexual) Clyde Barrow, who totes his gun like an extension of his manhood. Barrow, with his overly confident gun toting exterior hiding an inner rage, seems to be overcompensating for his problems in the bedroom. As I watched the film and noticed the obvious phallic imagery, I thought back to Huston's The Maltese Falcon, where the subtle homoerotic relationship between Wilmur Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.)and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) managed to slip past the censors. Wilmur, timid, wields two large automatic pistols while the "Fat Man," confident, totes a tiny handgun.

Apparently the film was supposed to have a scene that suggested a menage trios between Barrow, Parker, and C.W. Moss, but was cut or never filmed. My guess is that the film, already filled with bloody murders and overt sexual suggestions, was probably too shocking as it was.


Godard, I knew you wouldn't let me down.

After the cinematic doldrums of Two or Three Things I Know About Her and Masculin, Feminin (though I admit I need to see them again), Godard redeems himself in my book with the visceral and unapologetic Weekend

The film seems to be divided into two parts; the first being a road film along the lines of a gangster/road film, which I immediately noticed felt like a mix between Crash and a Bonnie and Clyde narrative, while the second half feels like a kind of documentary on a cannibalistic hippie commune.

Godard apparently wanted to offended, and certainly tried his damnedest by filling the film with bloody car crashes (too many to count), violence, actual animal deaths, and cannibalism-images that, though rather tame today, still managed to leave a large impression on the class.

Like many of Godard's later works in the class, I feel I need to watch it again, but I did notice some parallels between Weekend and Ruggero Deodato's exploitation "classic" Cannibal Holocaust, which has the unique distinction of being simultaneously one of the worst and most shocking films I've ever seen. Like Weekend, Holocaust takes place, at least in part, inside cannibal territory. Godard and Deodato both employ graphic scenes of animal violence and use their ultraviolent images to comment on society. But while Deodato cowers behind his gruesome film with a weak message of who the real monsters are, Godard makes a much more impressive and stronger statement about the failings of the bourgeois lifestyle. The live animal killings in both cases (a pig's throat being slit in Weekend, a monkey's face being chopped off with a machete in Holocaust, among others) are unnecessary, but aside from raw snuff, you can't do a better job of shocking your audience.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Masculin, Feminin

Godard's Masculin, Feminin is an overtly political film dealing with the lives of young men and women, though given his rather obvious gender bias, it's hard to truly picture this as a completely accurate portrait, as the male protagonist Paul is filled with anguish and questions of existential meaning, whereas the female role of Madeline is mostly concerned with fashion and pop culture.

Being somewhat frustrated with Godard recently, Masculin, Feminin's plotless excursion didn't help. After doing a bit of reading, though, I found that the film was banned to anyone under 18, which was precisely the target audience Godard had been aiming for. Maybe that's why I didn't quite get it. On the other hand, some publication said it was the best film of the year for people in that age range. While I didn't particularly enjoy it my first time around, I find it brave that Godard would aim such a difficult movie at such a young age group. It's arguably deeper and more intellectual than many other films at the time most kids that age would have normally been exposed to.

The film itself says it could have been called "The Children of Marx and Coca Cola," and with Godard's increasing attention on economic systems, philosophy, and rejection of pop culture, it's easy to see why. True to his style, Godard mixes his dissatisfaction with the status quo with his trademark touches of humor, though his uneasiness with the order at the time is obvious. Anyone daring him to go further would be in for a real treat...

Pierrot Le Fou

Pierrot Le Fou marks the point in the class where I am officially at a loss to fully make sense of Godard's films. Each of his films from here on out warrant repeated viewings, and your mileage may vary depending on how offended or supportive you are of Godard's politics during this period, which can be polarizing or even heavy handed to newcomers.

The film reminded me of stories of Bonnie and Clyde. It seems to have been somewhat influenced by the legendary duo in its crime-spree-on-the-road feel, and it's obvious that the American film named after the gangster duo (more on that later) was in turn inspired by Pierrot Le Fou, though more by its style than its politics. That's where Pierrot deviates from the Bonnie and Clyde story; Godard's overt and sometimes out of place politics, here best shown in a short sequence involving "Uncle Sam's nephew and Uncle Ho's niece," where the titular characters are extreme caricatures (complete with yellowface) of their respective home countries.

I saw this as another big step for Godard as he seems to continually disown his American pop-culture influences and roots (see the bourgeois party scene at the beginning of the film). He's angry, but never to angry to make a joke on culture when it suits him.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Story of Adele H.

Truffaut follows Day for Night with The Story of Adele H. starring the always beautiful Isabelle Adjani as Adele Hugo, Victor Hugo's daughter.

Interestingly for Truffaut (but not for his lead actress), Adjani carries the film. I say this because after seeing Traffaut films like Jules and Jim and Day for Night, whose casts featured a variety of standout characters, Adele H. almost seems like a step backward, feeling like more of an Adjani vehicle than anything else.

That's not to say the vehicle isn't somewhat interesting, though. The film did offer an intriguing look into Hugo's desperate madness, though, again, I can't help but feel that without Adjani, this film would be rather unremarable, even with Truffaut in the chair.

This is one film that I wished we could have had a class discussion on. While Adjani's performance was strong, the rest was less than noteworthy and I didn't see it as much more than another new direction for Truffaut.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day for Night

Francois Truffaut's Day for Night is an interesting, often funny, look into the inner workings of the cinema world. Almost a film within a film, Truffaut surrounds himself in his own picture. Thus, Day for Night plays like Truffaut's love letter to cinema; the film is a tribute to the art of making a movie and everything that comes with it, as well as a nod to Truffaut's influences. There is a great reoccurring dream sequence where a young Truffaut steals Citizen Kane promo stills from a movie theater, pointing towards both the huge critical acclaim the film enjoyed in France as well as its effects on the New Wave scene and its players.

Another knowing wink towards Truffaut's influences and contemporaries occurs during a scene where Truffaut's character gets a package of books, filled with volumes on Hitchcock, Godard, and others. I'm also almost positive I saw a reference to Jean Cocteau.

Someone in class mentioned that Truffaut is almost a masochist in that he seems to enjoy, or is at least ambivalent about, surrounding himself with his cast and crew, many of whom have their own shortcomings and issues; the lead actress demands a tub of butter before she'll see anybody in her dressing room, and the lead actor is a lovesick drama queen whose acting is most intense off the set and in a bedroom.

All in all, Day for Night is a great film that manages to capture everything, for better and for worse, that Truffaut loves about film.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 science fiction film featuring British pulp character Lemmy Caution, is a strange, noir-like picture that takes place in the titular city. It utilizes some elements of typical dystopian science fiction-a central body or entity controlling the population (the supercompuer, Alpha 60), the loss and suppressing of emotions by the ruling body-but never relies on any elaborate sets, props, or effects usually seen in science-fiction films.

As is usual of Godard's genre films, he pushes the film into near parody territory. He makes use of some of the usual cliches while ignoring others. It almost seemed intentionally convoluted and murky, at least to me, but the story itself is actually quite simple.

I found Alpha 60 comparable to the character IT in Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time. IT is a brain that controls the entire planet of Camazotz, forcing ITs citizens into a role of utter and complete conformity, both in actions and emotions. Much as Strange defeats Alpha 60 by reciting poetry to it, Wrinkle's hero, teenager Meg Murray, confronts and incapacitates IT by showing an intense feeling of love for her mentally imprisoned brother. Both characters escape.

I personally found the ending perfectly suitable. I can understand how some might find it a bit cliche, but I think that the fact it ends on a simple "I love you" makes it all the better. There's no cheesy monologue or elaboration needed; less is more here and the film ends on a stronger note because of it. In a film about the loss of human emotion, the simple recitation of the most emotional of statements-"I love you," is more than enough.