Sunday, February 13, 2005

Stop and Godard

Masculin Feminin. A Film by Jean-Luc Godard.

Jean-Luc Godard’s “Masculine Feminine” presents fifteen acts, all broken, intrusively voyeuristic, then straight-faced slapstick, oozing with ideas, sketches, errant thoughts, the thoughts expressed between young lovers, perhaps, the youthful exuberance of young adulthood, mannerisms still malformed. But the core, the core is what the title suggests, the interplay between the masculine and feminine as manifested in said young men and young women. Or is it? “There is no average French girl,” proclaims an anonymous, weary, girl narrator towards the beginning. Then the masculine and feminine have no normal, they’re just these fluid things. Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud AKA the star of Truffaut’s “400 Blows”), in one moment, is a stolid pursuer, then fluctuates during a long scene of tightly shot, cross-cut dialogue with Madeline (Chantal Goya) from falteringly confident to lilting romantic. How sweet; oh how sweet.

Of course he picks wrong, seduced (and killed?) by the perennial feminine embodied by Madeline, all the while his crushingly gorgeous soulmate, Catherine-Isabelle, meanders the periphery. This girl has a kind of proto-Kerina face, those crushingly gorgeous cheeks and a reticent glamour that’s only half aware of its dangers much like Paul is only half-aware of her beauty and merit and their natural intimacy and her subtle willingness to actually give him what he needs. See, Catherine-Isabelle is the true core of the film, the warm fuzzy center, the mature entity, knowing better. She’s the woman (a more even blend of the masculine and feminine) but Paul is attracted to the gooey, precocious, difficult, extreme feminine of Madeline. He pays the price, so the rumor goes.

And is this film truly an exploration of gender, as you might expect, or is it something else? What insight does it offer? It’s aesthetically engaging, all black and white, with those French trees once and a while and the outfits and hair and details so perfect you want to renounce your existence in L.A. and inhabit Godard’s perfect universe where black men on trains discourse to blonde hookers (four or five repeat in the film) about Bessie Smith’s black ass being all about desire, not love. Not love. Never love. Right. There’s something here. It’s kind of political. Like gender. And it’s kind of essential, like romance and love and the masculine and feminine. And magazines. And Marxism. And Pop music. And America’s wasteland. And the choices we make. And anger and desire, desire, and the feminine holding nothing, being an absence, a finality (fin), a period (aha!), death, the sea, acquiescence, a reason to wear fedoras, a reason to learn how to tie a tie, a reason to take up causes (ahhh youth).

So where are we beyond the realm of aesthetic delirium. Yes. You will witness an achievement of style. Yes, you will be tossed questions and get lost in the beauty projected. Disjunction and intervals and gaps that the viewer must fill and reconcile in order to make meaning, but unfortunately, beyond the pithy and witty, what’s here? A conglomerate of tasteful and referential cunning? Is that the point? Is there a point? Do we need a point? What’s gained beyond images and a sense of the brevity and intelligence of the creator? Is this an assault on the clarity and escapism of American cinema or an unwitting logical extension? Are we to take this as a political film in the guise of a kind of romantic education? The young men being frustrated socialists, ready to write slogans on the walls. The women seem uninterested in such things. So. So what? Then, the sense left is that of incoherence and halting assuredness which, perfectly, is the state of young adulthood in the world (at least young adults who go to art houses), in love, at cafes, talking politics, talking, touching, learning, falling.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Laser Beam

“Laser Beam,” by Low.

The tremelo plunges, you swirl and feel. Drive to work. Walk away from her or him, finally, just finally. “Will this poison scar my eyes?” She asks. She asks and there is no answer. “Mother I need this grace alone.” Mother. Mother. Mother. “I don’t need a laser beam.” Over and over and over and what, what does it mean, this laser beam? The pace is so slow, laborious, grandiosely slow, lumbering. Like the heart, not its beating all rapid, but the heart’s pace, low, submerged, the long-slow exhale. In a song. In a song incomprehensible.