Goodbye To Language

Let me take you back in time. I was going up those creaky spiralling stairs to meet who I believed to be a future collaborator in my filmmaking practice. As she stood outside her office, well aware of my admiration for the building we were in, she said, with a smile, “Architettura fascista.” Despite developing a number of film projects together in subsequent months, this was as far as we would ever get to connect.

The time we would spend together in person was dominated by her anxiety that woodworm was consuming that inherited workspace and by anecdotes about the various renowned filmmakers she’d worked with, not least of all a certain Jean-Luc Godard. To the vinyl crackle of the original soundtrack of the film they did together, she would describe the arrogant Godard justifying every odd bit of direction with scenes from classic films.

“Why is it important for my character to cross this room barefoot?” she would challenge him.
“Because of Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa,” he would reply.

The paradox is that my creative interactions with this unnamed lady were always thwarted by her own need to constantly keep referencing other established work. This desperate ‘judging by comparison’ undermined the development of project after project and ultimately placed her in the same category as Godard - someone trapped somewhere between the conceptual and the theoretical, with the difference that the Nouvelle Vague filmmaker in question has a body of work behind him that is intrinsically connected with the development of cinema itself.      

Let me take you back in time again. Now the year is of definite relevance, but I wasn’t around this time. In the context of a symposium in June 1979, Jean-Luc Godard illuminated film students with the following words: “Films, in my opinion, are hardly seen anymore, since for me ‘seeing’ means the possibility of comparing; but comparing two things, not comparing an image and the memory that one has of it. Compare two images, and at the moment one sees them, trace certain relationships.”

This statement was meant to address the potential of the then-emerging video technology, but it’s crucial in understanding the filmmaker’s posture in the decades that followed. If his earlier work displayed a vibrant curiosity about the medium, in the last 30 years Godard’s ways of ‘thinking cinema’ veered too much towards the didactic.

Encouraging as its title may be, in the over-verbal context of French cinema, his latest feature-length film, Goodbye to Language 3D, is the definite offspring of his exhaustingly encyclopaedic Histoire(s) du Cinéma, made between 1985 and 1998. If the latter claims for itself the ambition of painting a portrait of the 20th century through a collage of various cinematic works, the former applies the formula (and partially adapts the form) to a more contained personal drama. But it fails disastrously on many levels.

I’ve made my feelings towards 3D public in a previous Filmreel article (‘Tactile Thoughts’, NT#81), but in regards to its specific use in this film, I can only characterise it as a filmmaker’s desperation to remain current.

Goodbye to Language is a brochure no one asked for, when it could’ve been so much more. Despite never being a Godard fan, I went into it with an open mind. The premise was promising and could’ve made for a good film - the disintegration of a relationship between a married woman and a single man seen twice and played by four different actors, with a dog straying between city and nature along the way.

But it’s always the approach, more than the story, that ultimately defines authenticity and success. Godard may feel above it all - by adding a tone of importance to the endless voice-over statements, literary references and contrived dialogue - but his film is not exempt from this.

In visual terms, it often displays the very precise aesthetics you’d expect from someone of Godard’s calibre, but these become fleeting moments amidst horridly dated imagery and over-saturated colours. Contributing to this jarring unevenness is the use of sound, with its abrupt cuts and crude (lack of) treatment.

Actors describe the director’s precision in certain scenes, in which their action had to match that of the classic film being played back in the background. Perhaps this is what Godard meant by “comparing two things, not comparing an image and the memory that one has of it”, but in doing so, he’s exposing himself as two things - an eternal film student who thinks of himself as a master and, consequently, someone who relies on the pre-established to impose knowledge on others.

To put it plainly, Godard talks ‘at’ the viewer, not ‘to’ the viewer.

I fundamentally disagree with his 1979 statement and even more so with his new film, because both fail to acknowledge cinema’s inherent capacity to reach deep inside us in a dialogue of suggestion and memory.    

João Paulo Simões

Film Listings

Hosted by Samantha Holland

While We're Young
Noah Boaumbach, USA, 2014
Mon 13 & Thurs 16 April | 11am | Showroom

Drawing on Ibsen's The Master Builder, and starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, this comedy revolves around two couples in New York City, one in their 40s the other in their 20s. Critics suggest the film manages to combine a solid dose of humour with genuine insight about the complexities of ageing.
showroomworkstation.org.uk


Whiplash
Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014
Sat 18 April | 3.30 & 7.30pm| Film Unit

A film about passion, obsession, and being pushed to the brink of ability and sanity, this film looks at the life of a student working to become the best drummer there is, under the terrifying tutelage of Terence Fletcher. Attend and see what’s making the critics rave.
facebook.com/flimunit

Found Footage Festival: Salute to Weirdos
Sat 25 April | 8pm | Leadmill

A showcase of “odd and hilarious found videos […], found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters throughout North America”, including “consummate weirdo Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 1983 travel video called ‘Carnival In Rio,’ seductively feeding a woman a carrot”. Hosted by Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, whose credits include The Onion and the Late Show with David Letterman.
foundfootagefest.com


Film/Coffee/Music at #9
Mon 27 April | 7pm | Café #9

In April we’ll be looking at fairy tales and cautionary tales as told on screen, from 1900 to 1960 to the present day. Come along for cinematic storytelling, coffee and cake.
facebook.com/filmsatnumber9


Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014
Sun 26 April | 3.30 & 7.30pm | Film Unit

An adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, this film revels in the less groovy sides of the 60s, and apparently frustrated audiences who demand coherence from a narrative film. But who needs the plot to make sense when psychedelic noir is on the cards?
facebook.com/flimunit


Queer Presence

Does the lack of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender art and culture in Sheffield matter?

With the British Film Institute's ten-day LGBT film festival Flare at the Southbank in London finishing this weekend, it made me question the availability of LGBT culture in Sheffield. Why doesn’t the festival tour the country, how can people in the regions access existing and new work without having to spend lots of money, and ultimately do LGBT culture and arts actually matter in Sheffield? I came to the conclusion that it does matter for three reasons.

Firstly, I know from personal experience that accessing LGBT arts and culture can have a positive impact on a person’s life and this can be even more pronounced for younger people coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity. Knowing your personal experience has a history and is represented positively and realistically in music, art and film can help you towards developing your own positive sense of identity and self acceptance, even if there are those around you telling you otherwise.

Secondly, a large city like Sheffield showing support for the LGBT community through arts and culture can help people question negative views through a process of making the abstract feel personal. It's harder to think negatively towards a group of people who have a face. By bringing LGBT arts and culture to the city, the profile of the community is raised, and by having large groups of LGBT people and their supporters visible people begin to realise that we live all around them and always have.

Lastly, there is a simple economic argument to be put forward. There is a large LGBT community in Sheffield who travel outside of the city for events. Providing something local of sufficient quality ensures that money is transferred into the local community. It also means wider participation for those people who don't have the money to travel outside of the city.

With this in mind, LGBT Sheffield are running the first LGBT mini film festival and after party in the city 18 April at Theatre Delicatessen on the Moor.

For more information, check out the programme.

Karl Olsen, LGBT Sheffield