Friday, May 26, 2017

Classic Movie Review: JLG/JLG: Self Portrait in December (1994)

JLG/JLG: Self Portrait in December (1994)
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Whenever I watch a film from late period Godard – pretty much anything he made starting with Histoire(s) du Cinema (begun in 1989) – I am torn between two reactions. One is that Godard is still obviously a genius – his ability to create striking, memorable images – and in particular his editing and sound design is truly amazing, and several times during the runtime of one of his films, you are struck dumb by something you see or hear. But the other part of me thinks that most of what Godard has down in that period is self-involved claptrap – intellectual exercises for an increasingly small number of people, as he looks down on everyone else who isn’t a genius like Jean-Luc Godard. Is this some of this perhaps my own insecurity – worrying that I don’t understand what Godard is talking about? Undeniably – I really don’t have any clue what he’s talking about half the time in these films.
In his 1994 film, JLG/JLG: Self Portrait in December is an hour long film in which Godard considers his own place in cinema history – as well as who he is as an artist at this late stage (he was in his 1960s by then). By this point, Godard had already become less and less commercial viable – something he seemed to actively court for nearly 30 years, as he more and more abandoned narrative film for avant-garde essays and montages. Godard looks morose throughout much of the film as he considers his past successes – and how out-of-sync he is now. There is also a little bit of playfulness in the film – as Godard interacts with his cleaning ladies (which you could choose to see as playful, or sexist, or perhaps both) – and then pokes at his critics who have accused him of anti-Semitism, by explaining stereo sound with a diagram, that ends up being a Star of David. And like any late Godard film, there is lot of philosophical quotes – as Godard seemingly brings up arguments, and then shoots them down in rapid succession.
There is much to admire about this film – and over the years, I have learned with late Godard to try not to parse it all too closely, to find out Godard’s precise meanings for everything – they’re going to fly over my head (and so be it, I guess) – but, as with much avant-garde cinema, to try to take it all in as a sensory experience. That’s probably why my two favorites of Godard’s late period are Notre Musique (2004), a brilliantly edited montage of the three kingdoms of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and his latest film Goodbye to Language 3-D, which made brilliant use of 3-D technology, in ways I had never seen before (and my least favorite is Film Socialism – a film that seems to be deliberately visually ugly). Honestly though, I’m more than a little tired of Godard making films about Godard – and really do wish he had spent the last 30 years applying his genius to something more. But that’s a selfish complaint – just because late Godard isn’t really for me, doesn’t mean that he should listen to me. Much as I have said about the last few Terrence Malick films – when others complain that they wish he’d tell stories again, I always wonder why we want the one filmmaker doing something completely his own to be like everyone else. I didn’t much care of JLG/JLG: Self Portrait in December, but if it’s your thing, enjoy.

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