Continuing my little mini-movement of my writing from the confines of a facebook group to this here blog, this one being a little more relevant given the recent death of the filmmaker. I’ll probably want more to say since I certainly don’t feel I exhausted what is one of the most radical movies experiences I think happened in my lifetime, but for now this will suffice.
We got “ok boomer” and we got “Old Man Yells at Clouds” and we got several more memes to indicate the unveiling of a new generational divide and the deep truth that old people are fucking bitches sometimes. It seems like a natural response towards changes to dig your feet into principles or behavior you’ve embedded into yourself regardless of how it conflicts with the shift of time. Young people are champions at this stubbornness but old people have it down pat.
One such bitch that we happened to give a camera to is Jean-Luc Godard and while that bitch-ass bitch attitude of his is released in ways that are often unproductive, toxic, and hurtful, there are times where it’s turned to the cinematic artform itself and the wrestle that ensues ends with the medium turned on its head in the most exciting way. This was present in his canonised peak of the late 1950s into the later 1960s and I think this is even more present in his current time. If the late cinema of Godard’s contemporary Agnès Varda was her using cinema to reconcile her age with a medium that allows her to exercise a young soul, Godard is barely trying to reconcile his age with a medium that stayed fresh and dynamic without him. And in my opinion, it has led to some exciting and introspective attempts to construct a personal language out of the new tools available to him.
Enter 3D, the hottest fucking toy that the past decade has re-introduced in manner more vital than the previous 3D boom of the mid-1950s. And it’s only one of a few things Godard and his new regular cinematographer Fabrice Aragno decides he wants to figure the fuck out of in this new age of filmmaking he’s living in, although it’s not the only thing since he’d already messed with prosumer cameras in Film Socialisme and surround sound with Notre Musique. And so with all that sort of curmudgeonly attitude about both cinema as an experience and as an art, he goes ahead and starts demolishing it and dissecting it on-screen.
The result is the most physical non-action-movie experience I think I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Jean-Luc Godard’s entire career ethos seems to be making us aware of how we register movies as pieces of each other – whether putting his focus on the editing or the subject or the color or the genre elements, it’s always something he wants us to notice in a pestering way – and the movie he made with Aragno just translates that to the modern advent of film technology: how do our eyes register entirely different information, how does that now change with movement on certain degrees, does this technology really add anything to the observation of nature, what about something we shouldn’t be looking at like a hairy ass or a penis or a breast or a vagina, what about something that we absolutely are physically unable to look at like an out of focus object, can we replicate the inconsistent positioning between our eyes, and so on. And then there’s the sound mix: ok, now we are forced to look in this direction but hear something in that direction, does it amplify off-screen sound (especially VIOLENT off-screen sound), was that a fart joke? Yeah that was a fucking fart joke.
I know this sounds like homework to a degree, but it is exhilarating to me: the concept of playing into the limits of a medium and then pushing further and seeing what happens when it crashes over and over (and oh how many times it can crash). This is certainly an experiment that has been replicated (there’s no way Blake Williams’ PROTOTYPE exists without this movie and it’s a lot more pleasant, but Williams has also been making 3D shorts before this movie and this isn’t even Godard’s first tango with 3D), but the angry energy of this movie jazzes it up enough to make it all fresh and vibin’. It’s a fun and joyful movie in spite of the sort of anger that animates it somehow, but I think this is so of most Godard movies: he may not be having a good time but we are.
Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a pretentious movie from a pretentious filmmaker. But you kind of have to be pretentious to look at something and say “I am going to break that down as to render it useless”. And you can’t back out on that attitude, you gotta follow through on your arrogance if you want to succeed in creating a brand-new cinematic language out of it (something I’m never not going to be excited by and a thing that I think Godard is only met with Terrence Malick’s post-Tree of Life movies in attempting). After all, even if the plot is the last thing you should be paying attention to, the conversations and monologues had about technology’s growing place in collapsing the way people communicate together even face to face is insistent that something’s gotta give and these shining new toys demand a new vocabulary to work with them.
Which is probably why the movie in question was called Goodbye to Language.