Monday, July 16, 2007

Meetin' WA (1986)

I find discussion about the meaning, nature and significance of cinema as an art-form something I never tire of, even when (like now) I am exhausted. It's nice to get a director describing his art, but often interviewers ask puerile questions. What if one artist is asking questions of the other? Surely some gems could be unearthed.

Trent kindly sent me a link to a video clip from 1986 of two greats: Jean-Luc Godard interviewing Woody Allen. I've just finished watching it and was amazed at how much Allen was articulating my own thoughts and feelings about cinema and television. I know little about Godard, but what I know is that he has or is exploring video as an alternative medium. This potentially puts him at odds with Allen. Below the Dailymotion clip, I have quoted verbatim from the accompanying article about Godard, Allen and the interview. Thanks, Trent.

As it turns out, the Dailymotion site is a bit buggy and I'm having trouble getting the script to embed their clip here, so I'm using YouTube instead, which has split the clip into 3. So, if you're interested, check out the three parts here (each about 8 minutes long), or check out Dailymotion using the link above.

Part 1
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Part 2
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Part 3
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One of the least remarked upon attributes of Jean-Luc Godard is how thoroughly he mastered the medium of video production. For him Video was not a mere substitute for film, but something separate and distinct, an aesthetic platform all its own to which he brought a heretofore unrevealed dimension in his art; one that subtly informed the work he would later do once he returned to Cinema.

It is, however, somewhat understandable that this pocket of his career should be so little known, given that his extended video works of the 1970s . . . Six fois deux, for example, or the remarkable France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants . . . continue to languish in the limited access obscurity into which they landed with a thud virtually from the hour of their creation. There are those in the fundamentally class-based universe of cinephilia who would not have it any other way, however. I mean, don't let's kid ourselves here. There is, and always has been, a vast amount of social comfort to be derived for Us (the cinephile class) if You (the vulgar herd) have no access to the works we get to see in the cinephile dungeons of large urban centers (after all, if We can't use film to construct a bizarro-world recreation of High School where we are no longer the geeks we once were then, I ask you, what is the point in all of this?).

So Jean-Luc Godard's video creations remain militantly inaccessible by all but the small number who've been fortunate enough to see them. And more than any of these works, 1986's Meetin' WA stands as testament to the extraordinary facility he developed with this sub-medium; a faciility harder-achieved in the 70s, when video production was a far more dolorous and taxing enterprise than it is today.

At once sublime and witty, the 26 minutes of Meetin' WA consist of an interview Jean-Luc Godard conducted in 1986 with Woody Allen, the director of What's Up, Tigerlilly and Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (and soon to be featured in the final moments of Godard's abortive Cannon Pictures' King Lear). The chat itself is amiable enough; certainly avoiding any conceivable adversarial notes; but this, along with the New York setting (giving Allen the home field advantage as it were) does nothing to prevent a visible anxiety from growing on the part of the filmmaker as the interview goes on.

It's as if it dawned on Allen, right in the middle of everything, that this tape could be . . . used . . . in some way he would not be able to control, that he was talking to a man who long ago demonstrated that he would not be bound to a standard not his own. Gradually, almost anticipating this development, Godard's camera moves in closer and closer, Allen's eyes dart back and forth between Godard and his translator (film scholar Annette Innsdorf) while questions are asked, the expression on his face bordering at times on open worry; like he's waiting, with only marginal patience, for some sign of what it is he's gotten himself into to manifest itself. It is, perhaps, the only occasion where Woody Allen seems as neurotic as the persona he wrote for himself was always said to be.

2 comments:

trent said...

You're welcome. The France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants mentioned there is in that ubuweb link I sent you...well some of them are anyway. Ubuweb is pretty cool. Godard is a master blaster. The text on the ubuweb page accompanying the video is wrong so I'll copy and paste the correct shit from here because it is motherfucking pertinent to the cause.

In this astonishing twelve-part project for and about television -- the title of which refers to a 19th-century French primer Le tour de la France par deux enfants -- Godard and Miéville take a detour through the everyday lives of two children in contemporary France.

This complex, intimately scaled study of the effect of television on the French family is constructed around Godard's interviews with a school girl and school boy, Camille and Arnaud. Godard's provocative questions to the children range from the philosophical ("Do you think you have an existence?") to the social ("What does revolution mean to you?"). The programs' symmetrical structure alternates between Camille's and Arnaud's segments (or "movements"), each of which is labelled with on-screen titles: Obscur/Chimie is paired with Lumiere/Physique; Réalitie/Logique with Réve/Morale; Violence/Grammaire with Désordre/Calcul.

Using precise formal devices, including the extended take, slow motion, closeups, and the freeze frame, Godard and Miéville "decompose" the quotidian world of their young subjects by focusing on the minutiae of the everyday and isolated gesture, the significance of a gaze. In one remarkable sequence, the fixed camera remains on a close-up of Camille as she sits in silence at the dinner table, while her parents hold an extended conversation offscreen. Another extended sequence observes Arnaud in the classroom.

The children's interviews (titled Verité) and scenes of their everyday routines at home and at school (Télévision) are followed by the ironic commentary of two adult television journalists (Histoire) who provide a history/story that elaborates on the interviews. Intercut with multi-textual collages of television, cinema and advertising images, these discursive visual essays analyze the economic, social and ideological functions of the mass media.

As they expose how a child's world is "programmed" by the institutions of family and television, Godard and Miéville posit the mass media as the pervasive cultural influence in the home, with television as the 20th century primer. A provocative social discourse that resonates with eloquence and wit, France/tour/détour/deux enfants is an extraordinary achievement.

Paul Martin said...

Trent, I think that's a different link to the one you sent me (which I saw before Meetin' WA. Godard's Le petit soldat is screening at Melbourne Cinémathèque on September 5, along with Alain Resnais' Muriel ou le temps d’un retour.

I'm happy to receive video links like that but I'm not big on the medium, for the reasons enunciated by Woody in the clips above. It's good to see stuff that otherwise is not readily available, which is why I posted those clips. The medium is especially suited for short films.

Thanks again for the links and the info. I'll check it out another day (just got back from day 1, term 2 of French classes and am tired as hell). And late night tomorrow with Cinémathèque.