Monday, February 9, 2009

Jean-Luc Godard: Still Making Things

In film, we ignore our great thinkers and practitioners at great peril to ourselves. For my entire life, I rejected any consideration of Jean-Luc Godard. I dismissed him as a pretentious, dull intellectual who threw text around on the screen to hide bad filmmaking. I had seen 'Breathless' and had a memory of two people in vivid and somehow ultra-modern black & white climbing on top of each other and walking on a bed in a tiny apartment room. But I dismissed the director as a one-film-wonder and refused to see anything more by him.

Until one year ago.

I have been reading a good book about Jean-Luc Godard and watching as many of his films as I can find on DVD. He's still working. He's still there. I'm glad I managed to find him while he's still working.

I enter a room in mid-afternoon knowing that my camera is only a few feet away. The light comes through the kitchen window and makes shadows of potted plants on the white porcelain tile. The trees outside sway and it seems like rain is coming. I know that there are scenes I could film here. They are all around me in this room with its strange light. I could grab my camera and with the proper attitude make an incredible film. Right now. Immediately. But it's hard to do. It's a battle to persuade one's self to attempt it. I begin to feel foolish. I struggle with myself and laugh at myself for imagining that out of the great universal pile of YouTube videos a single film taken in my kitchen could possibly amount to anything at all in the mind of a single viewer. Nietzsche, in 'Thus Spake Zarathustra,' writes about how one's self is one's greatest enemy and will begin to doubt and mock one's own thoughts and noble efforts.

I view Godard as someone who has spent a lifetime leaping fully into this battle and winning it. He would look around my kitchen, pull out his video camera, turn a gas burner on and film it without a pot to heat. He might talk about holding his palm to the fire and then pressing it against his lover's cheek to burn her. He might briefly show a scalded and blistering hand, a palm print on a cheek, a car bomb exploding next to a busy marketplace. And he would have a film. I think he has fought consistently to make film a nearly mental act. As much a mental act as writing a novel or a poem. I think he is perhaps closer to this achievement than anyone else in the history of cinema. He appears to be willing to put himself into his work the way a writer might. Not a screenwriter. A real writer. I don't think Godard gives one tiny bit of a damn about screenplays. He uses a camera to write. Like Brakhage scratching celluloid with his fingernails.

Last night I watched 'Contempt.' I've read that Godard was unhappy during this shoot and couldn't stand working with Brigitte Bardot. But it's one of the greatest films about marriage that I've ever seen. She is magnificent in it. Mysterious and irrational and like a curse to all foolish and driven men. Once again, I come from a Godard film with a vivid memory of a man and a woman stalking each other in an apartment. Climbing over one another and scrambling across a bed. Almost like a prizefight. The film is forty-six years old and looks like it was shot just last week. Godard is the most modern of artists. I look at his work and I suddenly know what the word 'modern' means. It has nothing to do with being recent. I think it might be something to do with light and the way people behave in it and react to it. How they gaze at or through windows and engage with structures and how they move into or out of the light. Modern. Microsoft didn't name its operating system 'Windows' for nothing.

Here's a short film called 'Une catastrophe' that Godard made for the 2008 Viennale film festival.

Here's is a piece of his enormous 10-hour 'Histoir(s) du cinema.'

Well I certainly want to see all the rest of that. It's spellbinding. I like the way he talks about how Italy was the only country that could resist the domination by American film in the 1940s. How he says the language of Dante made its way into the image and made Italian cinema great. I believe him because the images make me believe him. I want DVDs of this history of cinema. I want them badly.

I got into a big fight in a movie theater this past Saturday night after seeing a Swedish film called 'Let the Right One In.' At the end, a friend of mine said, 'Boy! The pace of that was just unbearable.' I snapped, 'Forget every stupid thing you've ever heard about Hollywood films. It's a disease I recognize. The disease of timing. Timing. You think films need to blast along on a railroad track, gaining speed until the big crash at the end... don't you?'

I'm just that kind of asshole. Three of use made our way up Fairfax Avenue yelling at each other like several idiots. But I meant it and I'd say it again.

But see, Godard doesn't even think the railroad tracks exist. There's no train and there's no end.

So Godard now works in his studio with video equipment. I wonder if secretly, under some indecipherable username, Jean-Luc Godard might be uploading work everyday onto YouTube. Would he do that? Wouldn't it make sense? Perhaps he's shooting video in his kitchen everyday and making something magnificent for us to see. I want the link if it exists!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thomas Wolfe Said...

Are we mistaken in assuming that the whole vocabulary of abuse which is exhausted every week in the journals of our red and pink-complexioned comrades - the sneers against a man's talent, the bitter denials that his work has any substance, sincerity, truth, or reality whatever - is really what it seems to be? No doubt we are mistaken. It would be more charitable to believe that these pure spirits of the present day are what they say they are - collective, selfless, consecrated - and that the words they use do not mean what they seem to mean, and do not betray the romantic and deluded passions that seem to animate them, but are really words used coldly, without passion, for the purposes of collective propaganda - in operations completely surgical, whereby the language of the present day, with all its overtones of superstition, prejudice, and false knowledge, is employed clinically, scientifically, simply to further the Idea of the Future State!

No more, no more! Of what avail to crush these vermin beneath our heavy boot? The locusts have no king, and the lice will multiply forever. The poet must be born, and live, and sweat, and suffer, and change, and grow, yet somehow maintain the changeless selfhood of his soul's integrity among all the crawling fashions of this world of lice. The poet lives, and dies, and is immortal; but the eternal trifler of all complexions never dies. The eternal trifler comes and goes, sucks blood of living men, is filled and emptied with the surfeit of each changing fashion. He gorges and disgorges, and is never fed. There is no nurture in him, and he draws no nurture from the food he feeds on. There is no heart, no soul, no blood, no living faith in him: the eternal trifler simply swallows and remains.

And we? Made of our father's earth, blood of his blood, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh - born like our father here to live and strive, here to win through or be defeated - here, like all the other men who went before us, not too nice or dainty for the uses of this earth - here to live, to suffer, and to die - O brothers, like our fathers in their time, we are burning, burning, burning in the night.

Thomas Wolfe
('You Can't Go Home Again' published in 1934)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Brilliance Exploding Out of Echo Park Film Center

Look at this. It's ragingly brilliant. It's a film called 'La Vida Nueva' by Kaymen Barber at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles.

I love the shots going down the streets while shooting out of a car. Just wonderful. This film grabs attention and does not let go. It keeps hitting you with people who want to tell their stories to the filmmaker. You know, it's not easy to get people to want to tell you their story. Not easy at all. This Kaymen Barber has some serious talent and better not stop making movies because he's going to waltz himself straight into a professional filmmaking career and blow a few directors I know clear out of the pond.

It looks like the film is shot with a silent camera and then sound is recorded later. Frankly, I think the technique is totally captivating and it is something I never would have thought of. It's so good in fact that I want to steal it. That's how good it is.

Here's another film. It's called 'Thick Strings and Shredded Cheese,' by Carla Orendorff.

This is a young filmmaker learning fearlessly. She's good. This film is moving in a very simple and direct way. I love the shots of the photos and the spools of thread. The way the filmmaker animates them on the table. I've never seen that before. It's something new. To do that in the middle of a documentary with a voice telling a story is a very unique and wonderful approach.

Here's yet another. It's called 'Spray Cans and Stencils.' It's by John Tavares. It's about artists and what they do.

I think what you have here are three artists showing their respect for each other. The two spray can and stencil artists are doing their thing for the film artist and the sense of mutual understanding that comes through this film is very subtle but unmistakable. I love the quick shot of the painter taking a digital photo of his work on the wall. He is serious and proud. As he should be. This is a fascinating documentary that I wish lasted at least an hour because I want to see more.

I once had a big conversation with friends about how best to find real intelligence in kids aside from IQ tests and things like that. I said that if you want to find intelligence you go and hand cameras to kids and see what they make. That's one way you can find someone's mind. But I never had the will to prove it. It looks to me like someone down at the Echo Park Film Center is doing this and it's paying off. I haven't been down there yet, but I think it's a great place anyway. I can tell from the films.

Echo Park Film Center also has a YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

United Kingdom Ready to Jail Anyone Who Photographs a Cop

If you like photographs, stay the hell out of the United Kingdom. The straggling Western nation appears to have not noticed that the unconstitutional Bush junta is no longer in power in the United States and persists with its little-partner notion of a totalitarian security apparatus defending itself against... well... defending itself against civilization. The thug nation has decided to give police the authority to stop people who are photographing police in public. They are already doing this to an alarming degree, but now it will be an offense punishable by 10 years in jail.

The logic is that someone might be trying to elicit information about a police officer that is likely to be useful in an act of terrorism.

It would be useful to have a photograph of a police officer's shiny round face because then we would know exactly how to shoot something directly into the officer's mouth. Is that what the new law protects against?

I would not under even the remotest of possible circumstances ever travel to the UK. It has become utterly barbaric and is a total surveillance police state. Also a helpful British gent in a hurry once dropped an entire ice cream cone onto my ex-wife's blouse in the West End. But if I did go there, would it be acceptable to pull out my camera and imagine inside my private little mind that my Nikon was an AK 47? Nikon. AK 47. If I aimed it at a fat Brit cop and imagined pulling the trigger and sending a hot lead bullet through his unsuspecting head, would I be committing a thought crime that might lead to an act of terrorism? If I imagined his undersized head exploding in a spray of scarlet and dull gray puffballs of brain against the 'No Littering' sign, would I be committing an imagination offense? If I thought of my shoes all sticky and dripping with his blown off face as I tried to scrape it onto the curb, would I be offending and likely to commit an act of terrorism? What if I took a picture and then Photoshopped the cop into a smashed and broken body on a London sidewalk and hung it in a fancy gallery? What if I used thick red paint to write giant letters across my photograph that said, 'Clean Up Your Dead Cops Or Else.'

Perhaps I will enter Great Britain on a sly low-flying radar-proof night flight and disembark all in black with a knapsack full of James Bond terror and make my way to the GPS point of my imaginary crime. I will pull my Nikon AK 47 and pull press the button trigger and fire take a shot at of an imaginary police officer with a tin pot on his head that will pop off into the air and clatter to the ground as his cranium swells into a horizontal mushroom and bursts shards of bone in a perfect exit circle to stipple the display window before his body curls to the sidewalk in a lazy gelatinous slump.

How about that, Great Britain? Are you listening, home of Shakespeare? Wistfully remembering when you were a civilized nation? Are you reading my mind? Are you angry? Frightened? Suspicious? Taking all this seriously? Analyzing? Storing? Registering? Confident you've got me figured out?

Hey, what if I shot Shakespeare and blew his brains all over the Prime Minister? Words. Words. Words. All over his shirt. Red words. Black words. White words. Spraying out like a water cannon shooting gasoline.

Remember, poets don't teach. They destroy.

Read the poem, k*nt It was written specifically for the poor fallen UK. It totally pissed off the moderators at really bad because I slapped it into their comments area and when they censored it I told them they were a bunch of hypocrites pretending to defend freedom of expression. But I play nice with them and read their posts, but still they're pasty super-duper white cream goofballs. I mean, if you can't print 'k*nt' in your blog, what's the fucking point?