Thursday, 7 March 2013

Made in U.S.A (1966) - Jean-Luc Godard

Of all the feted directors of yesteryear, it’s Jean-Luc Godard that I just don’t get. I quite like a few of his earlier efforts (Bande à part and Le mépris), but the majority of his mid to late sixties films just leave me cold, and Made in U.S.A (no full stop after the A for some reason, a deep political reason I’m sure) is one of those films. It’s not that it’s impenetrable, since I can deal with that. It’s more that there is nothing within the film for me to hold onto, so despite the short running time (85 minutes), I found myself checking to see how long was left of the film every fifteen minutes or so. Which can’t be good can it?

So plot wise we have Paula Nelson (Anna Karina) trying to find out how her boyfriend (?) died. Maybe. Or maybe not. She wanders from scene to scene spouting a kind of cut and paste dialogue, bits of a pulp novel here (the film is supposedly based very very loosely on Richard Stark’s novel The Jugger), some philosophy there. After a while I found my brain was just unwilling to try and process any of what was being said. To add insult to injury the audience is bombarded with the distorted voice of Godard ranting on about various Maoist theories via a reel to reel tape machine. Characters are named after political figures and film stars/directors. Can you hear that? That’s me clapping really slowly in an empty room. Just. For. J-L G.

Now whereas certain films by David Lynch or Luis Buñuel require a degree of decoding by the viewer, it feels worthwhile and at least the directors give their audience some sort of story to hang onto while they try and figure out just what's going on. Godard meanwhile is very heavy-handed with his messages, which are firmly rooted in the times and subsequently dated and of no consequence to anyone now. Vietnam, the state of sixties France blah blah blah, I couldn’t care less.

Still on the plus side we get Marianne Faithful singing an a cappella version of As Tears Go By, and the playfulness with the format that you associate with Godard is still present, he always manages to do things that are at the very least interesting, but it’s not enough. The real hero of the film for me is cinematographer Raoul Coutard who makes the whole shebang a sumptuous viewing experience. His colour palette is made up of vivid blues and reds against warm yellows and oranges. His camerawork is second to none and goes a long way to explaining why he was the most in demand cameraman of this period in France.

Maybe the thing I hated most though was the dedication at the start of the film to Nicolas Ray and Samuel Fuller. Godard looks up to these two legends as teachers, and yet by slapping that dedication at the start of this film shows that he hasn’t learnt a thing, since neither of them would ever make a film as arse numbingly dull or as self-absorbed as this piece of trash.

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