My apologies for another long absence from the blogging world. I am in post-production on my upcoming feature film and a deadline is looming. However, I figured that since most of this article had been written in another form completely (mostly on Facebook), all I'd have to do was organize the points a bit and post it on here.
To quote Mark Borchardt in the popular 1999 documentary American Movie, "Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless! But that's what happens, man..." Or likewise, to quote from another favorite documentary Crumb, "How perfectly G-ddamned delightful it all is to be sure."
So what does all that have to do with Jean-Luc Godard and my hatred of him? In my recent Facebooking, I posted a status update in response to certain things I had been reading in the articles reviewing this year's New York Film Festival. The status update was an impulsive, impassioned and sincerely felt sentiment that erupted in a heated debate and a flurry of responses. I wrote, "Daniel Kremer thinks Godard needs to quit already. No one ticks me off in cinema (for all the wrong reasons) more than that pretentious sack of hot air who is idolized just because he has a few so-called 'classics' to his name. If you want French New Wave, check out some Rivette, Truffaut or Rohmer instead." Okay, so I was kind of looking for trouble in a sense. I was inviting conflict and scrutiny, and playing the provocateur a bit. So what? I liked the irony. The act of posting that update in and of itself was rather Godardian. I responded at one point, stating that "no filmmaker has enjoyed such flagrant display of titanic ego and misanthropy."
Among the criticisms levelled at my statements: "What about James Cameron?," "Godard is self-conscious, but Rivette isn't? Resnais? Godard's pretentiousness is worse than Truffaut's sentimentality, Chabrol's pandering, Rohmer's arch-Catholicism? Please...," "Film, like rock music, is so much a populist art form that oftentimes films and filmmakers are reduced to a vulgar reactionary quip in a Facebook comments box," "It's the idiotic critique that every film student from here to Tokyo feels empowered to offer up on your average legendary octogenarian cineaste. Spare us all."
Then, out of a comment I made that I have often been tempted to don a pair of shades, an unlit cig and a strip of film, take a photo of myself to mimic the famous one of Godard and caption it with 'I too can be look like an egomaniacal, arrogant reprobate who thinks he's Cool' came my favorite response: "Why do you make movies, Dan? To be thought of as cool? To be praised for your vision, your genius? To get laid? Only you know the answer to that. Just like only Godard knows for certain why he made Vivre sa vie, 2 ou 3 choses..., Le Mepris, Masculin feminin , Pierrot le fou, les Carabiniers, A bout de souffle." This was followed by theorizing that I hated Godard because he was politically Marxist in his work.
The Guardian critic Xan Brooks wrote an article entitled "No Joy in Godard" about Godard's newest film Film Socialisme and its premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. He writes, "Jean-Luc Godard continues to haunt the wings of the Cannes Palais. There is little hope of arriving at a consensus over his latest (and reputedly last) film. Some say Film Socialisme is an eccentric masterpiece; others that it's an eccentric mess. File me in the latter camp. My sense is that old age has soured Godard: he has grown so disdainful of his audience, and society in general, that he can barely be bothered to invite us in anymore. Again, I fear I was duped by the title. Isn't "socialism" about inclusivity, about pulling together and meeting as equals? Film Socialisme has no interest in that. It is Godard's arrogant repudiation of the world around him; a burst of lofty non-communication. Crucially, the subtitles are rendered in what he has described as 'Navajo English', a kind of semiotic sloganeering that strips out the verbs and teeters on the verge of nonsense."
This is the type of thing that is said most about Godard's latter day work, including his previous film In Praise of Love. So okay, here's a for-instance. Writer Thomas Hardy at the end of his career felt much the same way as Godard now seems to, but at least Hardy welcomed his readers to share in his disillusionment and to lament it with him. He still told compelling stories that refused to alienate his readers in bold strokes. Godard pushes us away. So Mr. Godard is much older than I, and has experienced so many more years, but one who subjects an audience to what is described above in the Guardian should have his or her ego checked by an egotrician. And yes, egotrician is a made-up word on my part.
What was startling and fascinating for me to discover was that Truffaut and Godard had a major falling-out in 1973, which precipitated in Truffaut writing Godard a 20-page letter lambasting his behavior. Truffaut writes, "Jean-Luc, So as not to oblige you to read this disagreeable letter to the end, I begin with the essential: I will not enter co-production in your film. Second, I am returning your letter to Jean-Pierre Leaud: I have read it and find it disgusting. It is because of this that I feel that the time has come to tell you, at length, that in my view you behave like shit." In this letter, Truffaut went continued calling Godard out in degrees of “shit” for, among other things, trying to seduce his female actresses and calling French producer Pierre Braunberger a “dirty Jew.” Truffaut continued:
“Anyone who has a different opinion from yours is a creep, even if the opinion you hold in June is not the same one you held in April. In 1973, your prestige is intact, which is to say, when you walk into an office, everyone studies your face to see if you are in a good mood. You have never succeeded in loving anyone or in helping anyone. Other than by shoving a few banknotes at them."
Truffaut then added in the letter of all the times he went to bat for Godard, helped him financially especially in Le mepris when Truffaut was asked to replace Godard and refused. He also told Godard that he was jealous of him, and included passages from a letter in which Godard demanded money from him for the production of 2 or 3 Choses.... The letter ended with “In any case, we no longer agree about anything.”
In 1977, he did a talk with students and reviewed his career and said that he was relieved that his films after A bout de souffle were failures. In his mind, he felt it kept him from becoming what he thought Truffaut had become: someone who “Talks to nobody, except to Polanski”. Godard felt that Polanski and Altman films “pretend to be intellectual when it’s pure merchandise”. He felt their style was dishonest. He felt that Truffaut was part of that group.
I am one who steadfastly believes that personal and artistic life should be separated. What do you do about Wagner or Ezra Pound, who were raging anti-Semites, or any legion of others whose personal views do not accord with one's own? I freely admit however that, as a Jew, I find value in both Wagner and Pound. But it is when personal life shrilly eclipses the artistic life yielding masturbatory work that the product(s) and the individual behind it cannot avoid intense scrutiny. What is identified as "joie de vivre" in his early work, to me, looks like a lot of back-patting, the success of which hinged on people's latent need in the 60's for that type of freedom. Pierrot le fou is the closest he has come to my liking him. Even Jean Eustache, whose La maman et le putain (1973) took us through a similar milieu, speaks to more of a humanity and an artist's commune with his audience than any of Godard's work.
I have no issue with Marxism or Marxists really at all. Many of my favorite artists have been far left of center, and I am rare among my kind as an intensely religious liberal, a left-wing Chabad Lubavitch Chassid, and a Zionist all at the same time. It's kind of complicated. Wouldn't it be? I take no issue with the fact that Godard is a Marxist and that he's made "political cinema" and beloved as a polemic. What bothers me, however, and what really "cheeses me off" about his work is that he makes films like he expects automatic commendation from intellectuals, complacent and comically indifferent anger from the "capitalist pigs," the middle class and its sell-outs, and impassioned cries of hurrah hurrah from fellow artists and cineastes...for what are really and ultimately stunts. It's like filmmaking on auto-pilot. You cannot make Marxist films and be a flagrant narcissist the way he is. It's not Marxism anymore. I cannot wrap my head around those mincing, pompous, cutesy stunts he uses in his films, even ones as fleeting as the opening "film from the cosmos" title-card in Week End. And that's really what they are...stunts. As much as people try to glean gold from them, they are like most everything else from Godard, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. His almost sociopathic personality, which everyone blithely characterizes as temperamental artist syndrome, is just the cherry on the cake for me. It just compounds my hatred of him.
But my hatred really does begin with the work (although I believe that his work and personality go hand in hand), which if we are talking about why I dislike his canon, the hatred should begin there, but one should always seeing from where that type of work stems. For instance, Vivre sa vie is beautifully shot and keep in mind that I am not underselling Godard's technicians. I love most all of cinematographer Raoul Coutard's work. But as for the actual film, I have seen similar stories told better elsewhere, with more heart and honesty than that film. There is no doubt Truffaut saw Godard as a genius in his work, but I really do think he saw his friend's reprehensible behavior in life undermining his artistry. Nowadays, it is like Godard's favorite toast, when he can bring himself to be around people, is "Here's to art in vacuums...and the people who toast it!"
His omnibus episodes in Paris vu par and Amore e Rabbia are laughable compared to his compatriots, and these are the only times his work can be explicitly compared. Chabrol, who one of my Facebook debaters identified as "pandering," really showed up his overpraised contemporary in the former. Godard's episode in that film about a love letter sent to the wrong male suitor, or whatever it was (it was so forgettable to me), was the very epitome of tired and tiresome.
Yeah, I really dislike no one in film as much as I do Godard. Alright, maybe M. Night Shyamalan, but that guy is just a universal joke in general anymore, so it almost kind of goes without saying. People think I'm just being contrarian and vainglorious or whatnot when I communicate my vehement dislike of the man and his work. Someone I know threatened to disown me as a friend if I didn't take back my "Godard is a hack" comment. I generally think that Truffaut, more accessible as he is and more commercial as he is (and, yes, perhaps cloying), is a much more successful type of filmmaker. His films are not always great and yes, I dislike quite a few of them as well, but even the ones I dislike still feel like they probe the depths of what fascinates, moves and inspires him as a filmmaker and as a human being (which, even before the duties of being a filmmaker, is first and foremost in its own duties, because the quality of life you lead ultimately, even if you're hermetic, speaks to the kinds of films you make and I don't think anyone can deny that). Rivette's films, good or bad (but most often good in my opinion), often speak to something so intensely personal and deep rooted, and become politically profound as a result, almost inadvertently. I couldn't believe how quickly the 13-hour Out 1 (and most of his long movies) just kind of flew right by. To quote another indie filmmaker, "If you make a film to be liked, it’s not your film anymore that’s being liked. It’s what you did to get liked. I don’t know how you can have worth as an artist if you are full of it as a person. I don't know how." My mantra: Be a mensch first and a filmmaker later, even if you're angry and embittered at the world and the people in it.
I don't take issue with Marxism. I feel like getting out of this country because, yes, as a political animal (surprise surprise, peoples' assumption about my aversion to politics is incorrect), I cannot stand living in this country anymore, in the current climate of Obama-bashing, middle-class racism and intolerance of progressivism for the sole reason that it comes from an alleged "radical black man" (I've seen people lambast him with very little education on the state of things to back it up) and the fever-pitch moral corruption by pop culture and corporations of people my generation and younger. I had to listen to an hour and a half of party-orgy talk from a group of teenage girls on the subway the way back from JFK after my India trip, while they sat directly in front of American Apparel ads of a scandalously young girl in bra and panties. This is not to mention the counter to all this, which is the Bible-beating of America's Breadbasket to smear the lives and livelihoods of those with whom they disagree. Everyone and everything in this country is just ridiculous to me now. This is coming from a Chassidic Jew. Amazing, no? I am devout, but not at the expense of my fellow man. Okay, all that I just said was said with great ferocity. However, I just don't make films about overtly political things, because I don't want to give my work expiration dates. If a political statement is made, it is mired thick in the heart of a story. Rivette would have inspired and exhilarated me enough that way had he just done this alone. Would you rather see Godard's brain-bleedingly pretentious, laughed-off-the-screen-in-1987 King Lear rather than something like Rivette's L'amour par terre (1984) or Truffaut's The Green Room (1978) which, even though they are recognized as respective failures, are ten times more fascinating than any of Godard's 80's drivel?
Making inaccessible films is on the shoulders of its maker. Rivette gets accusations of inaccessibility and that is something I have never understood when you compare him to the likes of JLG. So if Godard wants to suck on his stogy or a cig and "call Morocco at two a.m." (when most people are asleep and not able to pick up the call) because it fullfils him in some way, count me out of being open to picking up that call even if I'm awake. That's senseless! But that's what happens, man. How perfectly G-ddamned delightful it all is to be sure.