Sunday, December 14, 2008

2 or 3 Things I Know About Godard -or- this entry has a beginning, a middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order

This was my first time seeing 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and my first reaction was that it was one of the most difficult of Godard's films, at least that I have seen. I found the whispering to be an effective contrast against the noise of the city, but after awhile it felt a bit heavy handed. I suppose Godard was going for a contrast between the cacophonous noises of city life and machines versus drowning out the softer tones of the human voice. Perhaps on another level it could be meant to represent the inner turmoil of the modern mind of a city dweller, trying to filter out the noises of city life that threaten to make even the simplest thoughts impossible. In one instance, in the café, the sound of the pinball machine is just as loud as the conversation and is quite distracting, perhaps a representation of modern technology impeding man's ability to communicate. Even when the shot moves to a conversation on the other side of the café, the pinball noises are still just as prominent as they were. Communication is another important theme in the film. Godard makes reference to city life being taken over by forms of communication, most notably radio and television, and calls for the formation of a new language. Not that the film is contented with simple thoughts though. In lieu of a narrative, the film consists of a series of vignettes with a prostitute called Juliette pontificating heavy philosophical questions in an inner and outer monologue. Some of the philosophizing comes off as a bit amateurish though, like when Juliette is contemplating "what if blue was called green by mistake" or "if you say a word 200 times it becomes meaningless". It sounds like something you'd hear in a freshman dorm after a bong has made a few rounds. Godard's scathing criticism of the U.S.'s involvement in the VietNam war is still present, but I didn't think it was as clever as it was in Pierrot le Fou (with the "play" put on for the American sailors)and Masculin, Feminin (when Paul distracted the soldier while his friend wrote "peace in Vietnam" on the U.S. military car). The ever present criticism of commercialism is rather humorous though, while Juliette and another of her prostitute friends are talking about the new line of Paco Rabanne dresses while they are undressing for their "date" with John Bogus. I'm still not quite sure what to make of the fact that the "American" John Bogus clearly has a French accent. I wonder if perhaps Godard is sidling France with some of the blame in Vietnam, since they were a colonial presence there for hundreds of years prior to America's involvement with the war against communism. However, Godard equated the American presence in Vietnam to Hitler's Third Reich, with the America Über Alles signs.
The one aspect of the film I found most interesting was the line that said "If you can't afford LSD, buy a color TV". There's a few levels on which you can interpret that statement. On a literal level, a dose of LSD costs considerably less than a color television, especially in the late 60s. Perhaps Godard means to say that if your mind and body can't "afford" the effects of LSD you could "tune in, turn on, and drop out" with a different drug that is just as surreal and mind warping as LSD but can be easily turned off if it gets too intense. Speaking of illicit drugs, this film's narrative "structure" feels a lot like William Burrough's experiment to derange the mind without the use of drugs, Naked Lunch, in the sense that there is no structure, just an unconnected series of vignettes like I mentioned before. This is the perfect embodiment of his theory that films should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order. By comparison, Le Weed-End seems coherent. Godard dips into pure avant garde formalism in one scene, when the shot is just a close up of the swirling patterns in the foam of a cup of coffee. Shots like this would not have looked out of place in films by Leger or Man Ray.
The "her" in the title of the film refers not just to Juliette but to Paris itself. All the development takes place on the outskirts of town, in the banlieus or the suburbs. Paris itself doesn't have any modern high rises or skyscrapers, they are relegated to outside the periphery like the La Défense area that is the Parisian center of banking and commerce. Since Paris figures so strongly in Godard's early films, it could signify that Paris is static and unchanging. There are no shots in 2 or 3 Things... of the iconic monuments one associates with Paris, with the exception of the Arc de Triomphe which appears briefly. The focus seems to be on the construction of new buildings. Since Godard makes reference to the need for a new language to be created, it seems he is creating a new filmic language by making a film radically different from his earlier work like Breathless where the iconic Parisian landscape (Notre Dame, the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower) was almost like a character of the film. The problem with creating a new language though is that it will take a long time before other people can learn it.

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