Friday, October 07, 2022

I'll add something later about this scene, and the sadism of the 60's model of documentary. I've walked out of films once or twice and almost thrown a chair at the screen. Godard contextualizes it; getting away with sadism by commenting on it, mixing act and reference: art predicated on plausible deniability. It's tricky.

The last of we hear from Paul in his own words
"Gradually I began to realize that such questions......often distorted rather than reflected a collective mentality. My own lack of objectivity, even though unconscious......was inevitably matched by insincerity in those I questioned. Unaware of deceiving them, I may have been deceived, too. Why? Probably because such surveys tend to forget their real objective......seeking value judgements, instead of observing behaviour.  I discovered that all these questions I was asking French people......expressed an ideology of the past and not of the present. I had to remain vigilant; I had gleaned a few insights as guidelines: A philosopher is a man who pits his awareness against opinion. To be a aware is to be open to the world. To be honest is to act as though time didn't exist To see life, to really see it, that is what wisdom means."

My first written comment about Rohmer
If I'm in a city or a place where city-dwellers go for holidays or weekends and I pass by a street vender of any age who's neither poor nor desperate, selling sincere but terrible paintings or other attempts at marketable creation (that rarely pass kitsch) I think of Rohmer. No character in Rohmer's films is equal in intelligence or perception to his creator; though there may be a claim to something, inevitably it's less then s/he imagines. The people are small and the author's presence is outside, superior but benign. My first reaction to the sidewalk painter is contempt, but Rohmer remains a gentle moral conservative.
Godard's films like Rohmer's are about small people, as told by a man who for all his sense of irony is not. Catholic art is the art of philosophers. The peasants may be loved but they speak for themselves in words written for them. The hatred of polling and social science is the hatred of technocratic dehumanization, as opposed to the humanity granted by melancholy moral superiors. 

I lived in Chicago in the fall of 1988, and spent a lot of time in the film department of the Art Institute. I audited two classes: one on avant-garde film with Tom Palazzolo, and another, with Babette Mangolte, watching whatever films she wanted to watch. She was a great character and a great teacher. We watched old movies and MTV. She was opinionated but curious about everything, the farthest thing from a snob.  Palazzolo at that point was making Kuchar-like extravaganzas using students, friends and anyone else he could rope in. They were deeply personal narratives about his past but he insisted on referring to them in terms of cinematic abstraction. In the class he played a lot of experimental films—he was a judge for the experimental section of the Chicago International Film Festival, so we got to vote—and short vérité documentaries from the 60s and 70s by names I knew but have forgotten. One of the films ostensibly was about about the filmmaker's mother, a housewife trying to find a way outside her suburban cage. She started taking a fashion design class, her post-adolescent son trailing her with his 16 mm camera and a zoom lens. I remember her nervously making a presentation to the class and every awkwardness was magnified in her son's passive prying. In the famous money-shot she walks up and begins screaming into the camera and at her son as he hides behind it. Her look was so direct and her pain was so real that I had to look away. He'd earned her rage, but the class was laughing. Palazzolo said something about truth. He was laughing too, but it was as pathological as his denials about his own film. I left.

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