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Hopper, Godard, Hitch, Fellini, Bigelow and More

Updated through 6/12.

Let's begin this quick run through goings on in New York and with J Hoberman in the Voice: "Dennis Hopper changed the game with Easy Rider (1969), blew up his career with The Last Movie (1971), and then, through a never clearly explained series of events, took over and reconfigured a Canadian tax-shelter project for which he had been hired to act, thus contriving a dialectical comeback with his brutal, accomplished Out of the Blue (1980)."

"Widely banned and/or shoved under the rug at the time of its limited release primarily due to its violently bonkers ending, the film's alternately herky-jerky and languid cadence is suggestive of a terminally wounded body undergoing a death rattle." Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "This produces a look and feel that communicates the blind rage and ennui out of which punk's jabby power chords and raucous lyrics sprang. But the film's punk apotheosis — the just-barely adolescent protagonist Cebe (Linda Manz) — is so flimsily fashioned out of guesswork and fetishism that the drama can't be taken seriously as depiction or summation of that era's anger."

For Time Out New York's Keith Uhlich, Hopper's "punch-drunk spontaneity is a good fit for material that, in other hands, could have been lurid and insufferable." Cebe's mother (Sharon Farrell) "is a nympho drug addict, and her father (Hopper) is a deadbeat who's just finished up a jail term for crashing his truck into a school bus full of children (we see truly frightening flashes of the accident throughout). And the tragedies don't stop there."

"Out of the Blue makes even the most graphic new releases seem so utterly tame," finds Michael Tully in Filmmaker. "[I]t has the feel of having been taped back together after being discovered in a pile of burned wreckage. But that's what gives Hopper's coming-of-age tour-de-force its furious, raw power." For the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "if the fervent acting occasionally overheats, the reckless emotions nonetheless convey the authentic struggle of personal experience." And for the Voice, Nick Pinkerton calls up Linda Manz. Out of the Blue is at Anthology Film Archives for one week. Trailer.


"The McGuffin of Jean-Luc Godard's new film, Film Socialisme," argues the New Yorker's Richard Brody (more and more), "is the vast store of gold that the Spanish Republicans shipped to the Soviet Union in 1936, ostensibly for safekeeping during the civil war (of course, it never came back), and, in particular, the batch of it that disappeared en route to Odessa. Yet the gold is more than a McGuffin: it's a frequent subject of discussion, an object that lends the entire film its thematic and symbolic value, and the source of the movie's elaborate backstory — and it has been on Godard's mind for almost thirty years." He explains.

"Godard does what he does," declares Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies, where he elaborates: "discursive, thickly textured, densely allusive quasi-essay films filled with trenchant observations, plangent complaints, and the torturing of thematic bedbugs and dropping of at least borderline outrageous and/or deeply objectionable comments and characterizations. That's what the viewer gets in Film Socialisme."

It's "an assemblage of vignettes, allusions and tracts, a three-part invention in which music, voices and pictures are arranged in a loose, contrapuntal pattern that is by turns provocative, grating, gorgeous and tiresome." AO Scott in the New York Times: "In typical Godardian fashion the film manages to be both strident and elusive, argumentative and opaque."

"Film Socialisme is both timeless and timely," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "Nor is that its only paradox. This is at once the most essayistic of 21st-century Godards and the least interested in conventional communication, cinematic as well as linguistic…. Could this gnomic, impacted film-object be the 80-year-old artist's last testament? As if anticipating the possibility, Godard signs off with the words 'NO COMMENT.' Film Socialisme deflects interpretation but, so long as one subscribes to the William Carlos Williams injunction 'No ideas but in things,' it's filled with sensuous pleasures."

More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Henry Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5) and Armond White (New York Press). At the IFC Center through June 9.

Updates, 6/7: First, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's discussion of Film Socialisme on Ebert Presents At the Movies has gone viral. Second, David Phelps presents an English version of a set of annotations that began with a French collective, that was then expanded as it underwent translation into Spanish — and now adds a few notes of his own as well. And third, I've neglected to mention Daniel Kasman's review from Cannes 2010 and the previous roundups: Cannes and New York.

Update, 6/8: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's "Comment on 'No Comment.'"

Updates, 6/10: "As with so many of [TS] Eliot's late works, the best way to approach Film Socialism is to ask why Godard has erected this Tower of Babel and what we might stand to gain by staring at it," writes Ben Sachs in the Chicago Reader. "The title can be read as a lament for two utopian ideals (socialism, cinema as pure art), and in fact the movie is haunted by all sorts of lost illusions. It climaxes with various images of war-torn cities, and a recurring theme is whether one can still believe in the myth of Europe as the center of world culture. For all its references to defeat, however, the movie still conveys a sense of rapture with the process of image-making, if not necessarily filmmaking. Godard seems genuinely enthused by all the post-film media of the new century, and Film Socialisme revels in the variety of colors, textures, and editing schemes that make up the digital landscape…. Each shot is so visually expressive that one can easily appreciate Film Socialisme without understanding the heady, heavily thematic dialogue. But that theme — that ideals can thrive in art even when political circumstances make them nearly impossible — is life-affirming."

Ray Pride for Newcity Film: "Film Socialisme is sketch comedy for cineastes (far less dense than the obsessive and potted essay Histoires du Cinéma), those who react to colors and edits and gestural repetitions and thematic fixations, but not those who struggle to cipher a story from fragments."

Update, 6/12: "How do we understand Film Socialisme?" asks Kim West in May. "This question can be divided into three subquestions: 1) What is Film Socialisme? 2) What stories does it tell? 3) How does it tell them?" Recommended read.


"Vertigo is greater than even the sum of Bernard Herrmann's versatile, indispensable score, its evocative use of San Francisco locations, and Stewart's earnest, anguished performance as the increasingly unhinged John 'Scottie' Ferguson," argues Bill Weber in Slant. "Perverse, poetic, steeped in emotional desolation and destructive obsession, it delivers a fearlessly dolorous view of longing and betrayal in the guise of an acrophobia thriller, making through its classical ambitions (referenced by Herrmann's swelling variations on Wagner's 'Liebestod') and enduring fascinations a splendid case for Hitchcock as a grand experimental artist who labored in commercial genre cinema."

Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece is at BAMcinématek from tonight through Wednesday, and for Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, "it's a movie about memory that actually improves the more you go over its folds." Meantime, Miriam Bale's plucked out a few favorite quotes from Geoffrey O'Brien's 2006 piece on Jimmy Stewart for the New York Review of Books.

"Like many a classic, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita has become nearly impossible to experience apart from its legend," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L. "Yet La Dolce Vita lives forever." It is "at heart a melancholic elegy for male integrity that happens to take place during the age of Playboy and the international jet set. Fellini holds together its disparate tones (from eerie and otherworldly to bruised and unsentimental) with precise management of full-to-bursting widescreen compositions (his signature hairpin shifts in background to foreground action begin here) as well as a mind-meld director-actor bond with Mastroianni, who projects his character's elliptical decline into cynicism with a tense, vulnerable reserve." A restored 35mm print screens at Film Forum through June 16. Update: More from Matthew Connolly in Slant (4/4).

"Like Joan Braderman's 2009 doc, The Heretics, Lynn Hershman Leeson's lionizing chronicle of the birth, in the late 60s, and efflorescence of feminist art is motivated by first-person recollection," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Though her autobiographical asides sometimes disrupt the flow of her interview footage, which she began assembling 40 years ago, !Women Art Revolution moves briskly, unfolding as one lively sit-down after another with artists, scholars, and curators who established themselves at the height of second-wave feminism."

More from David Fear (TONY, 3/5), Rachel Saltz (NYT) and Lauren Wissot (Slant, 1.5/4). Sophia Savage talks with Hershman for Thompson on Hollywood. !WAR is at the IFC Center through June 9.

"Without much fanfare, the summer screening series presented at various outdoor locations by Rooftop Films has become one of the best places to see meaningful new work from independent filmmakers," writes Steve Dollar in the Wall Street Journal. "This weekend finds an impressive trio of works drawn from the recent South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas" — and they are Alison Bagnall's The Dish & the Spoon, with Greta Gerwig and Olly Alexander, Cherie Saulter's Florida-set No Matter What and Ian Cheney's "thoughtful and, yes, illuminating documentary The City Dark."


Last week, Steve covered Crafting Genre: Kathryn Bigelow, running at MoMA through August 13. He reminds us that the oeuvre includes Near Dark (1987), appearing "20 years before bloodsuckers became the pop-culture vogue," Point Break (1991), the "tragically misappreciated" Strange Days (1995) and, of course, The Hurt Locker (2010), winning not only a Best Picture Oscar but also the first Best Director Oscar given to a woman. Given all that: "Of unique interest are her earliest films, made after the San Francisco Art Institute graduate enrolled in the graduate film program at Columbia University, where she studied with such luminaries as Susan Sontag and avant-garde video artist Vito Acconci."

Justin Stewart in the L: "Bigelow's precociously slick 15-minute debut film Set-Up (1978) shows two dudes violently fistfighting while two semioticians deconstruct the action on the soundtrack. It sounds like either a microcosm or parody of her filmography in toto, in which she questions the complexities of violence and masculine assumptions. As quickly as 1987, with Near Dark, she had become too skilled as a genre stylist and entertainer for her work to sit comfortably entombed in theory class textbooks."

"Modesty is a virtue for Turkey Bowl, the tale of an annual Thanksgiving touch-football game that exploits concision to its considerable benefit," finds Nick Schager in Slant. For Karina Longworth, writing in the Voice, it's "an ingeniously designed and sharply executed experiment in faux-vérité quasi-improv comedy." Neil Genzlinger in the NYT: "'It's sort of interesting,' you might find yourself saying, 'but is it a film?'" Of course it is, answers Jesse Hassenger in the L: "If Turkey Bowl is light on moments of transcendence, even small ones, it's because [director Kyle] Smith remains so dedicated to his appealingly limited frame." At Brooklyn's ReRun Gastropub Theater.

Back to Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "In a 1977 essay, high priestess of film theory Laura Mulvey praised the melodramas of Douglas Sirk for 'probing the pent-up emotion, bitterness and disillusion well known to women.' Sirk's impossible-love weepie, All That Heaven Allows, starring Jane Wyman as a middle-aged widow who falls for her much younger gardener (Rock Hudson), serves as the urtext of MOMA's clever, ambitious series devoted to this surfeit of feeling — and its dismantling — in an often-overlooked source: avant-garde film and video from the past 70 years." Drama Queens: The Soap Opera in Experimental and Independent Cinema runs from tomorrow through June 19.

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More and more I get the impression that the reviewers of FILM SOCIALISME don’t speak French and more and more I doubt their capability of reviewing the film unless they’ve downloaded the fully subtitled version (which doesn’t appear to be the case). Why do so many reviews keep citing this line: “the Jews invented Hollywood”? Is it because Richard Brody mistranslated it and took it out of context for his review? It’s certainly not translated in the “Navajo” English subtitles and if the reviewers understood French they’d also have understood what the sentence actually says and that it is a response to the previous several sentences spoken by an off-screen voice. If people understood it maybe they’d see it is a bit more complex than Godard simply making an unusual reference to the Jews (Brody may understand this but is then willfully ignoring it in order to serve his agenda, one which, we can only assume, he’s going to follow in persecuting Straub for making a film based on a novel by a pro-Vichy writer (Lothringin! and Un heritier) and a pro-Palistinian film: Fortini-Cani). Here’s a better translation of the line as it appears in the film: “Yes, but the strange thing is that Hollywood was invented by Jews…” This line is spoken by an off-screen voice in response to these lines that preceded it, spoken by a different off-screen voice: “My friends, I have found the black box. This is why Hollywood was called the Mecca of cinema…the tomb of the prophet. All eyes in the same direction, the cinema hall.” So, word of warning to monolingual viewers of the “Navajo” English version of the film: there’s much more said than is partially translated, the “Navajo” is misleading, and our New York reporters aren’t able to tell you this and those who may be able to (Brody) won’t because it would complicate things where he likes them simplistic.
Another thing critics seem to be stuck up on is the “GOLD MOUNTAIN” subtitle. In the film, a shot of Otto Goldberg in the hall of the ship with his daughter Alissa. Off-screen voices talk about him. Someone says “…M. Goldberg” and a little boy, presumably Ludo (the French and German speaking kid), says something like “la montaigne d’or.” The Navajo translates this literally as GOLD MOUNTAIN. Most critics seem to think this is just another case of old, anti-Semetic Oncle Jean provoking us again. But, if we can learn anything from the American critics remarks it is that whatever they think is simple in this film is probably not. Here’s some background information to the story, telling you who the M. Goldberg character is (taken from INDEPENDENCIA and translated from French by me): “Today, what has changed, is that bastards are sincere.” This sentence is said two times, in the first and second parts. But which bastards exactly? Richard Christmann, first, a historical character around whom the protagonists of the first part gravitate. This former spy of Abwher, a Nazi information network, would have been a double agent, indeed a triple agent, during World War II. In 1940, in the story invented by Godard, he would have participated in the embezzlement of the Spanish gold between Barcelona and Odessa. He was, furthermore, one of the people responsible for the arrest of members of the Musee de l’Homme network, including Alice Simmonet, who he would have tortured. He is next found serving the Algerian FLN, then “representative of Bayer and Rhone-Poulenc.” Known under different pseudonyms like Leopold Krivitsky, Markus, and Moise Shmucke, he presents himself during the cruise under the name of Otto Goldberg. Two other passengers are looking for him: Major Kamenskaia, charged with finding the traces of the missing gold for the bank of the Russian government, and lieutentant Delmas, who Godard makes a former lover of Alice Simmonet in the interview with Mediapart. They will cross paths with several groups of characters crossing the Mediteranean for diverse reasons: a spy for Mossad and his golden tooth, a Palestinian couple, three intellectuals, respectively a writer, a philosopher and an economist, a young girl, Constance, her friend, and her younger brother, Ludo, who becomes friends with Alissa, Richard Christmann’s daughter. It is therefore less a matter of a tourist cruise than an international summit of bastards. When the old man and the daughter walk down the hall, they are observed by a surveillance camera: the travelers spy on each other. Later on, lieutenant Delmas repeats a gesture the hero of The Ghost Writer and the hero of Green Zone accomplished before him: he searches for – and finds- information on the internet. Descriptive sheets, shameful crimes, State secrets, everything is now available on Google. I’m willing to translate more from the INDEPENDENCIA article on FILM SOCIALISME if people want.
Also worth re-reading in light of the Brody article concerning references to Jews in Godard’s latest film: First published on this Marxist blog: “Re “Hollywood Production: An Honorary Oscar Revives a Controversy” The charge that the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is an anti-Semite—reported in the Michael Cieply article in the November 2nd edition of the Times—is as absurd as it is obscene. Quoting the author of the not-very-good book, “Everything Is Cinema” does not make it any less ridiculous and creepy. The film at the center of the controversy, “Here and There,” was a masterpiece made in the mid-70s and most likely never seen by a single member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the film, Godard submits his own political practice and that of the European left (the film’s intended audience) to a searing self-criticism. The film’s principal thesis is that the developed world’s left, unable to make a revolution in Europe and in the “first world,” projected its own desires on “third world” revolutionaries and, specifically, the left Palestinian resistance. Inert and wallowing in their political impotence, Godard blames the European left and himself for responsibility in the massacres and repression that the Palestinian resistance suffered at the hands of the Israeli military. The film, which has (like all of Godard’s work) a rich diachronic depth, views the plight of Palestinians at the hands of Zionist nationalism as the historical product of Europe’s own anti-Semitic past. Thus Godard brilliantly represents a history defined by a quasi-Hegelian unity-of-opposites (Golda Meir and Hitler) in which former victims become victimizers and what Jean-Paul Sartre would have called history’s “counter finality” where the ultimate product of Europe’s racist past is an emerging quasi-fascist and racist state constructed as a “Jewish” homeland. Many contemporary Israeli intellectuals and artists are making the same charges against the current State of Israel. The film, if anything, seems not so much anti-Semitic as prophetic. Our contemporary situation in which a stifling ideological conformity is demanded of us, as well as the continual and ongoing attempts of censorship against any possible narratives that might counter Zionism’s self-representation, demonstrates the prescience and profundity of one of the finest film artists in our world. I (as well as Godard, I imagine) find this suffocating ideological climate chilling. The current charges against Godard continue to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of his work. Bill Riordan Denver, Colorado"
Bravo, Bill Riordan. I feel less lonely in my strong defense of the greatest living film director… Film Socialisme has really brought out the philistines, who are no longer at the gate of the city but have besieged it.
I think this current anti-Godard resurgence is probably linked to Brody’s book being released two years ago and the general public as well as most critics didn’t see through his agenda. This new film just gives him new fodder and the other newspaper critics are following in suit. Case in point: Brody picking out a bunch of references to Jews in the film so that he can claim Godard has great “prejudices regarding Jews” and then to essentially psychoanalyze him: “His solitude is a creative solitude of political romanticism, filled with noble, quasi-utopian feelings and with bitterness directed at the world in which they remain unrealized.” It’s absurd, yet people don’t question this and he is somehow a respectable critic.
Some more from INDEPENDENCIA: On Gold The first shot of FILM SOCIALISME shows two parrots on a tree branch. “Parrot”: loro in Spanish. Gold will be an important subject in Godard’s last film: with the already mentioned watch, the necklace with gold pieces that the little girl wears around her neck, but also a somber passenger responding to Otto Goldberg’s name (“the mountain of gold”), black gold at a gas station in the Vaudoise region, and the transportation, during the autumn of 1936, of reserves from the Spanish Bank to the USSR. This treasure, better known under the name of “Moscow Gold,” was brought to Cartagena on September 14, 1936, then put on four Soviet ships that left for Odessa on October 25. Godard re-writes this story by imagining that this gold had embarked for Barcelona in 1940 on a boat belonging to the France Navigation company, founded in 1937. After its arrival in Odessa, the ship would have lost a third of its cargo, stolen by the Germans, and another third en route to Moscow, embezzled this time by Willi Munzenberg, the person in charge of propaganda for Comintern in the West. Godard thus constructs a legend from several contradictory historical items, but does not forget to include in “Our Humanities” the actual port of departure of this gold, at the expense of another paradox, geographically this time, with the Roman amphitheater in Cartagena being included in a series of images of Greece. In an inverted sense, FILM SOCIALISME’s crossing from Algeria to Barcelona is a response to this first crossing of the Mediterranean, but passing by Odessa, as a surprised passenger remarks. Godard’s film is, precisely, an investigation into the mysterious hijacking of the Moscow Gold. A young Russian girl, Major Kamenskaia, is in search of the second third of the treasure (which disappeared between Odessa and the capital), and meets Otto Goldberg, an old man who would have participated under another identity in the theft of the first third. In addition, the dialogues allude to the gold of the bank of Palestine, which would have also disappeared under mysterious circumstances and which one can imagine justifies the presence on the boat of a Palestinian couple and one of Mossad’s agents. In reality, Godard takes up the thread of a history initiated by Fernand Braudel in an article from 1946 cited at the beginning of the film’s third part, “Currencies and civilizations: from the gold of Sudan to the money of America.” The famous historian shows how the possession of gold assured the successive wealth of powers that stole it one after the other. In this perspective, the gold’s journey from the bank of Spain is only the end of a story that began in the 16th century, and that the filmmaker transforms into a fundamental story of the 20th century. The last words of Braudel’s essay could also serve as the conclusion to FILM SOCIALISME: “Thus do the chapters of the history of the world regulate themselves to the rhythm of the mythical metal.”
THANK YOU, Ted! I have nothing to add, only gratitude, because you’ve just exhaustively exposed the actually existing (and constricting) prejudices that are really at work here – the prejudices of the press and Brody, not Godard’s film.

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