weekend

Some astute readers of my blog may remember that Weekend was the film we tried to see in Paris, but the Pompidou centre ballsed the screening up. It kept repeating, although I was very amused by the fact that most people in the audience did not seem to realise that something was wrong. Anyway, in preparation for the forthcoming academic year, I decided to buy four or five Godard films, and this morning I sat down to watch Weekend.

I suppose I owe my ludditry to modern, cynical, culture. I could barely make head nor tale of that film, and it struck me as a very bizarre piece of work. I was also in stitches of laughter several times, especially when one man, bearing a bush and a pistol, claimed to be the offspring of a homosexual relationship between Alexander Dumas and God. I know this film is meant to mean something, and you’re meant to think about it, but it struck me as just plain silly.

I feel like such an infidel in writing this. to be sure, there is a lot of philosophy in this film. At one point, two bin men recount the history of race relations and civilisation. Reading the subtitles, I could gleam most, but not all, of what was said, and it did seem interesting. But is this film the right place for such a discourse? That, surely, is a good question. Certainly it is post-modern in it’s mixing of media; the juxtaposition of the words and the social status of those saying them made a very astute point about class, a topic which the discourse itself touched upon. Yet by including this segment in his film, Godard breaks away with all traditional ideas of narrative structure: in what other media, be it film, book, or whatever, I the narrative broken in such a way.

Thus it is clear that Godard was playing with such concepts. Why shouldn’t a film include discourses on philosophy? Indeed, where it is written that the very concept of the shot cannot be played with as Godard does with this film, for example breaking up the flow of the music. The characters seem to acknowledge that they’re in a film even, and a silly one at that. Godard’s genius was that he played with the idea of film itself, making it quite clear that the ‘rules’ of film, unlike that of language, are extremely weak. Thus, despite at first appearing to be rather silly (would someone tell me why there were crashed cars everywhere), Weekend, like most other films by Godard, are actually rather exciting, in that they open the field of possibilities up, away from the shooting styles of Hollywood.

More on the status of film

I was reading through comments yesterday, and the last few sentences of my aunt Dinah’s comment (or my uncles translation thereof – btw thanks uncle Aki) caught my eye ” But in any case, every work (book, painting, ballet, play or film) is only half completed until it has been “consumed”. It is the reader, the spectator, or the user of a media that truly completes the artistic production. The way a work is received is very important and changes at each playing or performance. Even identical copies of a film are seen differently at each playing. The same goes for reading books and plays.” While in no way do I mean to imply that I do not agree with the rest of what my aunt wrote, this point in particular interests me, for it cuts to the core of all art.

What, exactly, is art without eyes to witness it? After all, a painting is just pigment on canvas, and a novel is just lines on a page until someone sees it. Art needs human cognition to make it real, more than the sum of it’s parts. Similarly, all things need eyes to gaze upon them, as well as words to speak of them, to be made real. If I write the word tree, an image of a tree pops into your mind, which was not there before; thus, for all intents and purposes, the word called that tree into being. However, as de Sasseur notes, the relationship between sign and signified is arbitrary, so the tree in my mind may be different to the one in yours; moreover, if you say ‘tree’ to the same person at different times, different trees come to mind.

Similar things happen in art. It is most obvious, I suppose, with writing. My image of the places and characters in a book will be different to someone else’s. give two children the same piece of prose, and then ask them to draw a picture of a character, and their pictures will be different. While this may not be so obvious in other art forms, where the relationship between sign and signified may be closer, the same broad principals apply. Thus, texts themselves can be said to be constantly changing, even though the words on the page remain the same, since any text needs human cognition to exist.

If I can now go back to my short essay on whether film is a text or a performance, we now see the line between the two is blurred, since both are in an equal state of flux. This, as Chris says, is postmodern, as postmodernism seems to question the very existence of truth. Thus, if all texts are in flux, why cannot it be valid to remake films. (putting aside the fact that nearly all such films are dire, that is.)

Pierrot le Fou

Just as, in my opinion at least, one should read the novels of Ernest Hemingway in the context of his life, one should watch the films of Goddard with one eye on the context of the new wave. This was a very interesting period in the short history of film making: it was an effort to break away from Hollywood’s firm grip on the industry. Both financially and aesthetically, mainstream Hollywood film-makers ruled the roost, so in the early sixties European film-makers like Godard and Trufaut set about making a new type of film, just as Llars von Trier did much later with Dogme.

One need only to go to the local cinema to see that both thesse projects failed – the Hollywood high-concept movie, with it’s emphasis on visual spectacle, is virtually the only thing on our screens. No doubt this was in large part due to finance, but I am also beginning to suspect that aesthetics played a part in the downfall of the new wave too.

This morning I watched pierrot le fou by Godard. It was the first new-wave film which I managed to watch properly, and it seemed very alien and disjointed. Having said that, it went some way to confirming the ideas of Christian Metz in that, dispite its disjointedness, it remained readable, suggesting that film cannot be a language. However, the ‘grammar’ Godard employs (and I use the term loosely, as filmic grammar is a highly complex subject; it is a very ethereal entity) is rather odd. He seems to play with ideas of character and time, so that the viewer never quite knows what is going on, or which part of the story he is watching. Indeed, the film is about two people fleeing through France, but I personally was never quite sure what they had supposedly done. It was clear that they had done this deed at a party at the beginning of the film, but this party was being filmed in such aa way – with the film suddenly being shot through red or blue lenses at random intervals, that it was virtually impossible to tell what was happening.

Moreover, Godard seems to like cutting to seemingly random events, like men telling stories of how they woo their girlfriends. He also played with the soundtrack, so music would cut off suddenly. For one raised on the seemless editing of the Hollywood mainstream, this was all very disconcerting.

The effect of all this, I think it fair to say, is comic. It put me in mind of the Monty Python films, and there is no doubt that Godard intended to be funny. While I see no problem with this, it begs the question of why Gilliam is not ranked along side Godard. The answer, of course, is one of legacy: through being comic, Godard experimented with editing. To him, we owe much of the grammar of film – for example, the jump cut is largely attributed to him. Things that Godard created and experimented with were later taken up by the mainstream. Things as trivial today as location shooting were then unheard of in Hollywood.

To our eyes, French New Wave films seem alien; they aren’t part of our regular viewing diets. Yet, without them – without the techniques their directors pioneered the modern cinema would barely exist as we know it.

jake

We just got back from London. As I have said before, it’s always nice to see my grandmother: she’s pushing eighty, but she can still whoop everyone at cards. Christina was there too, and it was good to see her again.

However, on Saturday we – that is, Luke myself and our parents – went too visit my aunt Jill and her family in Hastings. We do not manage to get down there, so ii was quite to see my cousin’s son, Jake, tottering about on two legs. I remember him being a baby, but he is now aged 18 months ld and very mobile. He also talks a lot, although he has no coherent words yet, so what he says is a babble which sounds like language but is incomprehensible. No doubt words will soon follow, and then Jake’s parents and grandparents probably won’t be able to get a word on edgeways. I was also surprised by Jake’s dexterity – it’s already better than mine.

With a bit of luck, aunt Jill et al. will be coming up to see us in a few months. I wonder what Jake will be doing by then.

Film: text or performance

Recently I have been pondering the status of film. Can a film be seen as equivalent to a novel, or is it more akin to a performance of a play? On artistic and academic circles, the word ‘text’ is awarded not just to writing, but anything artistic and creative; here – and this is a personal preference – I take text to mean anything original, new, and created. There can only be one ‘text’ on anything.

This is, to my mind, different from performances. To be sure, performances are (more often than not) based on text. For example, a performance of Hamlet is based upon the text as written by Shakespeare. However, performances change: no to productions are alike; indeed, plays are often different from night to night – actors are prone to varying their style. Of course, this is as it should be, and the more performances of the same play one sees, the more one cam gleam from a text. In contrasting how one actor plays a character in contrast to another actor playing the same character, we learn more about that character. By no means does one invalidate the other.

But which category does film fall under? Film is a text in that, like novels, they are original yet unchanging. They are recorded artefacts: that is, like books or paintings you can put them on the shelf and they do not change. Thus, that which one sees – the shot – is rather like the words on a page. Yet, like performances, films can be re-made. At first, I had a problem with this: you wouldn’t re-write a novel with the same characters, plot etc but use different words. That would be silly, not to say plagiarism. Then I realised that, in this sense, film more closely resembled a performance. Thus the modern version of the ‘Italian job’ is as valid as, and could even be seen in relation to, the classic version.

Yet something about this makes me slightly uncomfortable. Where does it leave directors? They cannot be seen as true auteurs if they are not making something truly original. This is not to say that such people have no creativity, or that what they produce is any less valid. Plays have to be perpetually re-made due to their very nature, but films live on. Is it necessary to re-make old films? Is it artistically valid? I cannot decide completely; re-makes can be useful when read in relation to the original, but most of the time it seems they’re just ”wannabe’ films trying to steal past glories.

my internal debate nevertheless rages

fear of otherss is silly

It seems to me that we are becoming a nation of xenophobes. Community cohesion is breaking down along ethnic lines. We all heard, I am sure, about the two men booted off a plane on Tuesday, and I strongly suspect it was simply because of their skin tone and age – they looked like stereotypical terrorists. This is, to be sure, a rather scary time, but the moment we start questioning multiculturalism is the moment we lose our own cultural identity.

I blame David Cameron. His attempt to make xenophobia seem reasonable acted to increase interethnic tension in this country, for by calling for a debate on immigration would have made members of ethnic minorities feel unwelcome. It was like saying ‘we do not want any more of you lot coming here.” This would have made such people feel isolated, acting against community cohesion. In other words, by framing a debate along arbitrary divisions, he acted to increase those divisions. I think this is partly responsible for the incident on the plane.

When did we become a nation of xenophobes?

Heart of Darkness

If anyone ever doubted that literature could cut to the very quick of the human soul, they should read Conrad’s Heart of darkness. It exposes the depravity of human thought in it’s portrait of Kurtz, the racist white supremacist whose eloquence makes him great. What is interesting is that this book was written in 1902, before the horrors of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and all the other Kurtzes came to the fore. Thus it may once have been a warning, but now it seems a lament.

Of course, some academics, such as Chinua Achebe point out that Conrad himself is racist. I can certainly see their point: black people are depicted in this book as not human; at many times I was revolted by Conrad’s descriptions. Yet Marlowe is even more appalled by Kurtz, which, for me, blurs things slightly. I do not think Conrad was being racist – when you put it in the context of the era in which it was written – and, in his condemnation of Kurtz, may have been exactly the opposite, in a way. A single reading is hardly a good basis for such things though.

The full text is online here.

little miss jocelyn

The first episode of little miss Jocelyn is available to watch online here. At first I started to analyse it (it’s getting to be habit of mine). I couldn’t decide whether the programme was racist or not: this programme made use of large amounts of racial stereotypes, so the question is: is this programme making use of those stereotypes to make us laugh, or using them to point out the absurdity of such things. After all these characters are obviously caricatures.

Anyway, then I saw the sketch with the baby (near the end), fell about laughing, and analysis went out the window.

conservative truths

From my recent browsing around the internet – specifically the site I linked to yesterday – it is becoming apparent to me that many conservative Americans do not like academia. They accuse it of being too liberal, as if liberal were an insult rather than a position. They dislike, it seems, post-Copernican science, and the break down of the believe that one can be absolutely certain of something.

Academia, I seems to me, is an ever-lasting debate. One researcher proposes a theory, which is countered by another, and another. The truth is entirely down to perspective; thus, we can never know absolute truth despite the fact we are forever moving closer towards it. His, to me is logical, and as it should be. But to a conservative brought up, perhaps, with the absolute certainties of religion, this is probably very scary. This is why, I think, they are attacking academia; it is why, as Mark rightly pointed out in the comments section of my previous post, they are so insecure.

Moreover, mark is also right when he says ”[American conservatives] have to try to stamp their crooked ideology onto every cultural outlet, and can’t bear the fact that the intelligentsia is overwhelmingly liberal-minded even though the conservatives are (by default) the ones who hold the reigns of power.” Yet I see an irony in this: in positing a contrasting view, are they not, by definition, entering into the same never-ending academic debate which they seem to dislike? The truth can never be absolute because it is perpetually argued over. Thus, their position is paradoxical: they want a certainty of truth which can only (theoretically) be imposed by entering into a framework which negates any such possibility.

A similar paradox is at the centre of creationism: the proponents of this belief want it to replace science, but to get this achieved they have to enter into the scientific debate structure. Hence, in both cases they inadvertently become part of the debate they actually want to do away with, which is why both are doomed to failure. They say academic debate is unnecessary, and want to replace it with an absolutism, but in doing so they enter into the debate. They cannot help but re-enforce the thing they want to do away with.

It is this absolutism, I think, which gives rise to American patriotism, although you could have a good chicken-and-egg debate here. Nevertheless, the logic that ”there is no truth save ours” will duly give rise to an over-confidence in one’s belief system, government system. To concede that there are opinions other than one’s own, which are equally valid, is to concede that one may be wrong. This is why I think the essay I linked to yesterday was written by a conservative American: he could not conceive of a future not ruled by his beliefs; it is why he was attacking star trek, misguidedly accusing it of Fascism – it dared to posit a world where his belief system was not in command, thereby proposing that the American system may be flawed, and we can’t have that, can we? With it’s view of inter-planetary harmony, Star Trek was anything but fascist, as star fleet was devoted to science rather than conquest, but the writer off this text could not allow any idyllic vision of the future to exist without it’s being under rightist American terms.

If there’s one thing that winds me up about such people, it is their belief that their way is best, and will always be so. It seems very arrogant. In writing this, I know I am only presenting my opinion, which others may disagree with. It’s why I have the ‘comments’ screen. Opinion is the closest thing we have to the truth; depending on the evidence supporting them, some opinions carry more weight than others. Hence absolute truth can never be attained, but this should not stop us trying.

star trek ccriticism criticism

this was written, clearly, by an American conservative. It is sneering and arrogant in it’s belief that capitalism is always better. The point of star trek was that it was scientific and objective – something seemingly foreign to a conservative. I must agree that there are too few minority peoples represented in Star trek, as with all media, but I do not think this makes the programme fascist. I think, rather, that, writing from a conservative American perspective, the author of this text cannot abide the idea of a future which does not reflect his beliefs. He cannot accept a future devoid of capitalism and religion, and thus attacks anything where all-American values do not reign supreme. Thus, while it does contain some good food for thought – and criticism of this kind should always be encouraged – I find this text highly ill-conceived and flawed.