Godspeed You Black Emperor (1976)

19 03 2008

A pretty good idea executed in a pretty uninteresting way. There’s a few moments, early on, that do obtain a fairly remarkable sense of chaotic spontaneity but for the most part, it seems as though the filmmakers tried way too hard to create conventional drama. There’s a sequence towards the end in which the characters just talk back and forth. Sure, it’s plotless and I’m always one to embrace an avoidance of arch structure, but the characters decide to talk in this really phony interrogating way. There’s some worthwhile sequences here and there, but ultimately too sporadic to be particularly great.

The film examines the lives of the Black Emperor motorcycle gang members. Almost all of them are in trouble with the law and they all deal with this in their own way but the main focus is this: don’t let the cops win. These guys are really tame by today’s standards. In the opening sequence, the camera whips around every which way implying some very violent event, but it’s just some guys running around. The opening isn’t really that bad, though. In fact, some of the character exposition is actually sort of cool, but it’s once Yanagimichi starts detailing the mundane that the film loses any grip. I mean, I’d like to think the movies I tend to watch are slow and mundane, but a documentary of people selling dolls isn’t really the exact same thing as long static shots of Lee Kang-Sheng. The latter is rivetting, the former is the final thirty minutes of this movie and it made me want to die.

Now, with that said there are some genuinely great Korine-esque moments, in fact there’s even a scene where a kid shaves his eyebrows that is eerily similar to a scene in Gummo. It’s hard to recall a lot of them since they’re not overwhelmingly amazing and they’re muddled in between dumb scenes of people talking, but still worth it just for stuff like that kid playing music while his mom is praying. Still, in the end, it feels almost as silly as a after school presentation on the bad effect gangs have society, but I guess times have changed. Interesting at first, but the novelty wears off. Pretty disappointing considering it’s “legendary” status.

Nouvelle vague (1990)

19 03 2008

All the aspects of Godard’s later years are present: the far too articulate dialogue, self-reflexive techniques, and plenty of other pretentious mush. Despite how planned and artificial it feels, it has an almost incomparable beauty to it. Godard has expanded on the poetic touches featured in Slow Motion but at the same time, has expanded on the dry lifeless feeling featured in Hail Mary. Accusing him of self-parody would be superfluous as I’m almost positive that he’s one hundred percent aware of it and that he’s participating in the joke. In fact, accusing him of anything, negative or positive, seems pointless because it’s almost as though he knows what certain people will think. Quite an oddity, these late Godard films.

There might be something of a plot here. My closet guess would be that it centers around the world as seen by Alain Delon’s character. There’s plenty of bourgeois characters talking about literature, drinking coffee, and randomly providing theology lessons. I’d like to think the movie is more about defining the conventions of art cinema: what is the image, who are the characters, and “why is it always why?” As interesting (and entertaining) as this pondering exercise is, it eventually loses it’s novelty. Godard’s ideas always seem to where thin as they are excercises in the abilities of cinema, and not in the lives of real people.

Of course, since this is more a meditation about film rather than life, it is easily one of the most aesthetically evolved films I’ve ever seen. In fact, the opening sequence feels closer to Gummo than it does to Hail Mary, and that’s even with an overwhelmingly austere technique. There’s moments here that are for whatever reason hit a perfect rhythm and resonate in unparalleled emotions. Of course, all this rhythm which could have carried the film for it’s whole running time is almost always intruded by “arty” dialogue, which is almost completely composed from quotes. This quite infuriating, but perfectly represents the downfall of many post-60s Godard films. It’s easy to admire how he much he is pushing the art, but at the same time, it never amounts to anything more than academic wank material. I’m glad this film exists, though, as I can see how these advancements can be used to push the art of cinema into new territories. Let’s call it “a step in the right direction” shall we?

Le jour se léve (1939)

19 03 2008

Obviously, there are some considerably dated aspects that sort of taint my overall enjoyment of this film, but surprisingly, I actually think it’s one of the best movies I’ve watched as of late. It’s personal and honest, but still has a slightly detached observational quality to it. The depth of one single character is more akin to films like The Browny Bunny or I Stand Alone. It puts us into the mind of a mind, and depicts all the complex craziness that goes on inside. In other words, it’s really amazing.

The opening intertitles introduce the film perfectly: “a man sits in his room and recounts the moment leading up to becoming a murderer.” The man is François and he is quiet, reserved, but generally viewed as a nice guy by the other tenants. One day he meets a flourist named Françoise and immediately falls in love with her. Their relationship goes well, but one night François follows her and sees her interest in a dog trainer named Valentin. Around the same time, he meets Clara, a woman who is as fed up and disappointed with life as François is. They begin an affair, but François maintains his love for Françoise, who we are told, is actually Valentin’s daughter. Valentin explains that he wants her because she is his daughter and he has her best interest in mind.

That “old-fashioned” aesthetic is almost completely intact, unfortunately. To explain what I don’t like about it would launch me into a thesis about my general taste in film so in short, I don’t like that “glow” look and I don’t like fades and dissolves. Both of these are quite minor, though, because generally the compositions here are quite nice. Surely, not as innovative as what some Japanese directors were doing at the time, but good none the less.

The film’s strength don’t lie in technical details, though, but more in it’s ability to emerse the audience in a single person’s thoughts. By using what appears to be mystery plot devices, Carne crafts a powerful portrait of a tortured soul’s final moments on planet earth. The flashback and ellipses aren’t meant to create suspense, but instead provide a depth to a character that was unthought of at the time period. In fact, these narrative “devices” are probably more like the ones that Hong Sang-Soo sometimes uses. Sequences overlap, giving us a new context to everything we knew before. The film’s final sequence is easily one of the bleakest of all time and yet composed with such beauty. This may sound condescending, but it’s a testament to Carne’s compassion for his protagonist. A perfect description of the world he crafts, ugly, but with a certain admiration.