On what I think of as late, late Godard

More or less copy/pasted from a Criterion Channel film group, referencing his film output of roughly the last 20 years:

I grew impatient with Godard years ago, partly due to the chauvinism and kind of machismo that I think undergirds a lot of his films. And I just got tired of the genuflection at the alter of all things French New Wave…with him at the pinnacle, undeserved, as that place–inasmuch as we care about hierarchies–is held by Agnes Varda, at least as its greatest pioneer, if not continual practitioner.

I digress.

That said, despite what I still perceive as an inherent assertion of his self in his late late films, I find them rewarding and worth engaging. I really appreciate the formal experimentation, the discontinuities, the cuts and collisions and absences of sound/image that actually feel initially like mistakes–but they are not. I think there’s something crucial and important being investigated here, even if the ego of the director still feels present to me. 

Further, I see a lot of these juxtapositions as utterly logical and consistent in a radically discontinuous, online/digitally-informed culture, with “smart” phones, wherein one can lurch instantaneously from a YouTube video of a Bach minuet to a LOLcat. None of us even question these wild discontinuities in our perceiving lives, and yet, when purposely mimicked on screen by the director, its power to startle and disquiet and disturb is imbued with its own true nature: radical, abrupt discontinuity. We’ve become inured to the truth of our own jarring condition, hurtling from one discontinuous moment to the next. 

There’s value in seeing this represented and explored, and these are worth watching.

Pather Panchali — as a parent

I posted this in the Criterion Channel FB Group, but I’ll share it here, in the off chance a couple of my more film-inclined friends might appreciate it.

To praise this film is wholly unoriginal, but after rewatching it last weekend with my 11 year old son, for the first time since before he was born, I cannot overstate my awe of the poetry and grace of this film.

I have little doubt that my feelings for it have only been enhanced by having become a father.

I have been utterly inhabited by it for the last three or four days. I cannot stop feeling its echoes.

If you’ve not watched it in a while, I would urge you to revisit it. If you’ve never seen it, it’s mandatory viewing.

Buy the trilogy in the Criterion flash sale today in fact.

And do please listen to Ray’s 15 minute narration of the making of the film included in one of the extra features, recorded a few years later. It’s riveting.

I will expand on my post to include a further appreciation of my son’s curiosity, patience, willingness to explore, and trust in me to guide him on a rewarding journey through cinema. It’s a big part of our life together. We watch a lot of movies, and we do a lot of learning together, and we thrill to how these wonderful films illuminate life, experience, and point towards truths not always easily grasped. I love introducing him to all of these films that have been close to my heart for most of my life, and re-watching them with him. There is always something new to discover and learn and feel, and with a film like Pather Panchali in particular, experiencing that with him as a father now is a whole new gift.

It wasn’t the easiest film for him, but he stayed with it.

It thrills me that he will give so many beautiful works of art a chance. Many of them have become favorites of his: he has Seven Samurai and Stalag 17 and Yojimbo and Sanjuro and The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester version) permanently downloaded on his pad so he can check in with them if we’re on a long drive camping. He can recite lines from these movies. He figured out the themes to some of the Kurosawa and Sergio Leone films on the piano, for both hands. We will whistle them together while we’re driving, or out and about.
More than that, it’s when he trusts me to watch films by directors like Renoir, Bresson, Varda, S. Ray, Charles Burnett, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chaplin, Souleymane Cissé, or Kelly Reichardt, Herzog, Melville, even bits of Derek Jarman, in languages as diverse as Bengali, Bambara, Fula, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese, that I feel especially grateful in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

I would also add that watching movies like some of these can be a truly outstanding way to enter in to fruitful conversations about difficult subjects–history, racism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, fascism, war, genocide, etc. There’s nothing in The Great Dictator a kid can’t see, but in its satirical, humorous way, the film gets to the heart of the horror of Germany in the 1930s, and provides many openings for discussion. We’ve watched it three times, and after the first time, stopped at various points in the film to talk about what’s going on. Same with Aguirre, Wrath of God, which felt terribly relevant after introducing Kiowa to South America this summer, as while we were there, we did not in any way avoid conversations about colonialism, the genocide and exploitation of native people, as well as the complexities of inter-tribal colonialism and conquest (from the perspective of other peoples in the Andes, the Incas were nearly as much an invading, occupying power as the Spanish). To an extent, while not tackling quite such weighty aspects of South American history, The Wages of Fear also bore new relevance after having visited Ecuador.

The most recent films we’ve watched include Renoir’s The Grand Illusion, which would be the oldest film he’s watched thus far; it’s from 1939, and Melville’s Un Flic, both in French, and of course Pather Panchali, 1955, in Bengali.

Pather Panchali

I introduced Kiowa to Satyajit Ray and the timelessly beautiful Pather Panchali this weekend. It was at the limit of quietness and pace for what he’ll find engrossing, but as he has with other challenging films for an 11 year old–Bresson’s A Man Escaped, particularly comes to mind–he nonetheless becomes involved and committed. He knows he can really bail out if he wants to, but he stays with it, and I really admire that about it.

As it relates more directly to me, it’s been quite a few years since I watched Pather Panchali, and not only is it as beautiful and profound and delightful as I ever remembered, it’s actually even MORE beautiful and profound and delightful.

In fact, I’m sure I wasn’t a father yet when I last watched it, and that may be adding to the richness of this film.

What a marvel of poetry.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for the last three days. I want to go back in to it again and just stay there.

Everything is Political — Art.

Look, I don’t want to make everything about politics, but, as we used to say a few decades ago, everything is political.
It matters that amid all this crap that you stay engaged with creation and art.
Last Friday, I purposefully skipped The Installation. I still haven’t watched that speech, and never will.
Instead, I went back to MY safest space, which is art, and by being engaged with that, affirmed its power and hoped-for eventual permanent triumph over anti-human values.
I bookended this pivotal weekend with art.
Friday night I learned about two new artists, and heard and saw performed some of the most strikingly fresh music I’ve heard in a while:
And last night, Monday, as part of the Monday Evening Concert series, the mounting of three of Julius Eastman’s pieces.
And I swear, nothing gives me more energy and power to fight the fuckers of regression and dismay and the champions of the death-drive than music and art and bodies in creative motion, carving out an aesthetically inclusive, morally righteous, maximally just space.
It IS political.
Fight. Stay active. Call. Protest. Listen. Support your sisters and brothers whose lives and bodies are more imperiled than your own.
But don’t forget about art and creation. It is one of our mightiest pillars. Support it. Spend some of your money on it. Support foundations and grass roots arts groups. Support arts education for children and especially children in underserved communities. Support arts education for the incarcerated. Go to your local museums. Participate in free happenings.
Before there was a country, there was the voice and the drum.

Artists: time to work.

This a call out to the artists. The writers, the performers, the musicians, the observers, the chroniclers, the dancers, the choreographers, the singers, the voices, those who must create: I want to have a serious, sustained conversation about our calling.
Let me re-post Toni Morrison’s famous paragraph:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
We need to go to work.
So we’re doing the first order stuff: calling, donating, showing up, writing, calling again, faxing, engaging, resisting however we can, provoking advertisers to blacklist Breitbart, boycotting, marching, etc.
The next round is organizing in a more substantial way. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, and it’s not my strong suite.
What is my strong suite is creative work.
And a whole bunch of you have the same or even better strengths.
We have resources. We have skills. We have a LOT of skills. Rare, important, difficult-to-master skills, and we have the confidence to deploy them at will.
How can we begin to link our skills and ideas and creative fervor with those who possess other gifts and insights and skills, and work together to create a movement? How can we enlist our skills in the service of producing change, provoking thought, provoking reflection, reconsideration; provoking empathy where empathy is lacking, caring for others where caring is lacking? Changing the conversation. Reframing the discourse. Destroying existing perceptual frames; help to begin chipping away at existing power structures, and building new, more fair, more just, more civil structures which respect and hold as equally human those of us who have the least as those of us who have the most? 
We have studios. We have media apparatus of every conceivable, technical variety. We write well. We type fast. We compose with grace. We edit with precision. We know how to do lots of basic, technical resource management. We organize information well. We understand modes of perception, aesthetics, style, form, content, formats, clear communication, and complication and difficulty where necessary. We understand signs, symbols, metaphors, interpretation, meaning. We have discipline, can work very long, tedious hours. We know how to deliver. We know how to meet deadlines. We are not intimidated by massive projects. We understand vision and how to translate that in to work.

What can we do on our own? What can we do in small groups? How do we enlarge a creative culture which recognizes common cause even without coordination?

What can we do to work with other agents of change from completely different backgrounds, with completely different skills? How can we work together?

I’m not talking about abstract ideas. I’m talking about concrete work.

What the products of that work will be is up to us.

But I have to do something more than what I’m doing, and art is what I’m good at.

If you’re reading this, and you feel this, then let’s start with this question: how can we help?

Thus begins the work.

Twin Peaks

Everybody on FB is all gaga over Twin Peaks coming back.

I can not overemphasize the limitlessness of my not-caring.

David Lynch is the single most overrated director of all time, and nothing he’s done outside of The Elephant Man and maybe Blue Velvet (despite its many ugly moments) merits any serious consideration.

The fetishization of all of his curious little conceits elicits a kind of aesthetic fatigue measurable in light years, and if I have to see one more stupid shared post with a still from this show, with some caption assuming we’re all stoked, I will…I will…








I really need to leave the interwebs.

The Golden Globes

So, yeah, they happened. I don’t really care much either way, but I’m a bit suspicious about how Moonlight earns best dramatic picture, and…nothing else, while LA’s film industry’s trivial little love letter to itself wins…seven.

Compensating much?

In my very brief, and graciously engaged conversation with Barry Jenkins a month or so ago, he gently asserted that he’s not in this for the awards. Somehow, I knew this. The film is too good, its spirit too generous and wise and patient to betray a community of people hungry for awards.

So that the film does or doesn’t win this or that award isn’t terribly important. Time and history will judge the film to be as essential and timeless and important as it exactly is.

But in the context of Oscars so White, something still feels amiss.

I’m suspicious that the Globes gave the best picture award to Moonlight, because they felt like they had to, but then went back to all the usual stuff, as if to suggest it had done its moral duty.

Maybe I’m wrong. The Globes did pay mind to Fences and Atlanta and Hidden Figures.

But still.

Those seven awards for La La Land are looking pretty damned white.

And Casey Affleck?

Nate Parker is eviscerated, his career essentially over, and Affleck gets a pass?

Let’s not even get started with that.