Jean-Luc Godard

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Leo Hamalian

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[Since] visual interruptions are slipped in much as the auditory interruptions are [in Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One)], Godard may be suggesting that our inner, unconscious awareness is dominated by what we see and hear on the edges of our perception, almost subliminally or at least not with our full attention. What if our culture (depicted in the "outside" scenes) subjects us to pornography, propaganda, violence, and the cynical commercialism of television? The pornography, hinting at perversion, is associated with fascism in the film and the fascism with violence: as the customers in the porno shop leave, they first ritualistically slap the faces of two boys who sit helpless and hurt in a corner. The graffiti are forms of witty propaganda for radicalism: the black panthers toss guns to each other as though they were toys and at the end the revolutionaries are preparing for a shoot-out with the authorities. The radicals too are guilty of violence. Meanwhile, the Stones prepare, rehearse, re-work the music which gleefully, almost maliciously acknowledges the perpetual presence of Satan, of the demonic force that Godard seems to be saying can be used either to destroy or to create. (pp. 310-11)

[In the interview with Eve Paradise,] there is no sure way to know what Godard is implying, although the audience applauded the answers enthusiastically. The scene has a simple and innocent quality bordering on the idiotic. The girl is capable of saying nothing more than "yes" or "no" and the questions themselves are often absurd or have a fashionable, pop-art streak in them. "Eve" on the other hand is apparently trying to liberate herself from words, while the television interviewer uses them to obfuscate very often. But it is apparently Eve who trots around London painting words on walls. And Eve is inevitably associated with the virginal young women who are slaughtered by the word-spouting black revolutionaries. Everything is stood on its head. There is nothing that cannot have its reversal. The blacks given to violence shoot the girls, the white middle-class lapping it up in books abuse their boys. Against these scenes of outward violence of one kind or another, there is the "pure" world of the Stones' studio, where mind and heart fuse in the creation of something revolutionary that will give pleasure instead of inflicting pain.

Godard shows us a world outside the recording studio which is bleak and fragmented, the waste land of Eliot filtered through the sensibility of a French "painter in letters". It's not Kafkaesque because there is nothing hallucinatory about it—it's mundane and ordinary. The forces of liberation are not really liberating (pornography and repression are linked), and the paths of glory lead but to the grave. Television is Power and may invade Paradise if it wishes. "Advertising" is so much a poison in our bloodstreams that we must advertise even our politics and our most deeply-felt convictions, as though nothing any longer were private. The natural animal spirit of the Stones is overlaid with the voice spewing filth, as though the words might magically contaminate the music (if that hidden voice is the voice of the Devil, then the title has more than one meaning). At the end, the flags of anarchy are flying proudly over the carnage on the beach—and what is more, some film director is turning the revolution into a commercial success. Is this the part the film director will play in the revolution? Or is Godard indulging in brilliant self-parody? And those marvelous savage sounds created by the Stones—is this the culmination of two thousand years of Christianity, is...

(This entire section contains 835 words.)

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this the final gift of our technology and science? (p. 312)

Godard is satirizing almost everything his camera touched upon, from the Black Power movement to the Stones themselves. Yet he has at the same time an affection and fondness for both, so that he appears to be espousing a revolutionary view and a counter-revolutionary view at the same time….

[Is] Godard a revolutionist or not? will the darling of the New Left henceforth be regarded as a relapsed liberal? and is Godard moving away from political dogmatism, towards a purer form of film purged of the propaganda he so openly has used in earlier films? I myself think so. I believe Godard is tired of violence. He is also tired of hypocrisy. He himself has described Sympathy as having two parallel themes: creation and destruction. It seems weighted on the side of the latter. It is almost as though Godard would annihilate the world his camera contemplates. It is a tribute to his genius that the film is somehow strengthened by that impulse, that he has not caught the disease he is documenting. The film is beautifully photographed and carefully composed, with the famous counterpuntal techniques of Godard brought out in dazzling design. It is a film worth waiting to see. (p. 313)

Leo Hamalian, "Waiting for Godard," in Journal of Popular Culture (copyright © 1970 by Ray B. Browne), Vol. IV, No. 1, Summer, 1970, pp. 308-13.


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