Jean-Luc Godard and Breathless

First off reading the article where Jean-Luc Godard is being interviewed, I was given a good first impression of the guy. He spoke in ways about cinema that gave me joy and reminded me of the reason to love it. His words really spoke to me on how film is an amazing art form and it’s inspiring that he was a critic turned filmmaker. For films to be good, I think there should be a level of inner criticism that helps the movie be better. By having a film be done by a critic, they can analyze and judge their work like they usually do with other films. In theory it also would give the filmmaker the upper hand as they have seen many films, bringing their scope and views on what is good and bad (what works in a film and what doesn’t) in a higher respect. It actually sounds perfect for filmmakers to be heavy about analyzing films that have been made before theirs, to really understand filmmaking and storytelling. An ideal filmmaker should be a film critic and enthusiast.

As I read this, I thought about the possibility of todays critics becoming filmmakers. In a way, anyone in todays media culture has the possibility of forming a criticism and publishing it online. Anyone can technically become a film critic that voices their opinion to a massive audience. People I know, including myself, already watch many films and television shows with our own input and views. We discuss what worked and what could have been improved during specific scenes or moments in a film. I wondered if it’s still possible that a critic can become a well known filmmaker in our modern time. A website like youtube gives anyone the opportunity to have their own broadcasting video for the whole world to see. Not only is this great, it’s also horrifying in the sense of how much competition it builds. Imagining thousands of people who love films all at once deciding to push their videos into the online audience. It reminds me of a few of the last words Godard says, “Opening the door to absolutely everyone is very dangerous. Inflation threatens.”

Watching the film though, certain ideas of Godard sank in my imagination. From the interview I saw him as a man that truly knew film, knew the art that it is capable of holding in value and amazement. But maybe I hyped up the director too much, resulting in feeling a bit put off by Breathless. The film started very randomly, not very good at letting people understand what was all happening or going on. The shooting of the police officer was incredibly uneventful, things didn’t really seem to hold much emotional value in the scene. That part played such a huge start-up to the rest of the film, but it was barely even interesting to watch. Following scenes were somewhat interesting, long takes with sometimes witty humor and character development. A scene that was very memorable to me was when Patricia found Michel sleeping in her room, and they kept talking and talking about so many random things. At a certain point it was unbearable and I just wanted the scene to cut to the next, just to end it. I’m not sure what Godard was intending with that, maybe attempting to present realism with a long conversation and subtle foreplay between a guy and a girl with a past relationship. It was very weird, felt like over half the film was in that one scene.

Maybe I didn’t fully get what Godard wanted people to get from the film. The self-conscious concept about filmmaking is hard to perfectly present to a 21st audience without something like breaking the 4th wall. Jump cuts can seem at first like an error in the film, but the moment when the american guy is talking to Patricia, his head cuts funny while he’s saying one sentence, I was entertained by that. To be aware of watching a film seems like something a filmmaker would avoid doing. Usually when I imagine filming a screenplay, I would want the film to be able to suck the audience into a world where they are fully interested and thinking about the story deeply, almost entranced by what they’re watching. To jump scenes and cuts is something very unusual, maybe that’s what Godard really wanted to do; something unusual from that time’s mainstream films.

Todays audience wouldn’t fully realize the intentions of a director if they pulled this sort of maneuver in their newly released film. People would criticize it as intentional mistakes that hurt the film more than revolutionize it. Regular movie goers would either laugh or be confused by it, not favoring the style. Being different doesn’t always work out to being better or more interesting to the public or in comparison to other artists. It’s tricky to find a way to perfectly push a concept like self-conscious films with a technic that seems more like editing mishaps. Godard, to me, didn’t get it balanced enough in Breathless because the film needed some cuts at times and could have done more to really push that idea while keeping the movie entertaining. Entertainment is also another issue with films, we are brought up to believe that films are only for entertainment value. I’ve grown to understand that films hold more than value and importance but Breathless is about a smalltime criminal on the run, it would presume to be entertaining with that plot.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo almost gave me vertigo!

This was my first time fully watching Vertigo, and it really was a great experience. It almost feels like two films put it one, where the second half gives the audience all these plot twists that the first half needs to be seen again. As I left the class, the image of the vertigo effect in the film replayed in my mind. And soon I began to feel it, Hitchcock’s cinematography really gave me vertigo. Maybe the headache came from other things but nonetheless, the film really was a great suspense story.

Reading the article by Francois Truffaut, he portrayed a big, hyper fan of Hitchcock. Truffaut gave so many compliments to Hitchcock’s work, his nerves must have really trembled that surface of ice he cracked and fell into. Hitchcock is presented as a film genius with a perfect balance of social performance, gifted talents with inner humility and sensitivity, all through Truffaut’s view. I can see how the director does have skill and has a good sense of humor, but the author of this article really hypes up Hitchcock a lot. It began to feel as if the writer was enthralled by Hitchcock’s image without really having anything negative to say.

The actual interview (which seemed to be cut off at the last page) was very interesting to read. To me it seemed like reading a fanboy getting that once in a lifetime chance of talking to his biggest idol. Maybe all the research the author did gave him a big impression on the amazement of Hitchcock. During the Q&A, it was fun to read about the behind the scenes of Vertigo. For Hitchcock to say that the main character, Scottie, had a necrophiliac fetish was one of the most entertaining and funny things I’ve ever heard from him, and it never crossed my mind before. It made a lot of disturbing sense, also the symbolism of taking off the clothes in the second half of the film. In which by dressing up Judy, it was really a sense of undressing her to reveal Madeleine within, the naked Madeleine, who Scottie was really looking for.

An interesting reveal in the Q&A was when Hitchcock talked about the scene where Judy placed the necklace on her, and the jewelry was the real spark that gave Scottie the realization of what was really happening. For me I imagined that he had known from the moment he found Judy. All the dressing up and trying to get her to remember the different locations, it seemed as if he wanted her to crack and reveal the truth, but really Scottie was sick with a demented love. Scottie, in the second half, was a very different character from the first half, because we didn’t know what he was thinking. The beginning of the film, he was our guide in the story, but the second half that guide was Judy. The parallels give the whole story a sense of dizziness when thinking of how unnoticeable the transition was done. Hitchcock did do a good job at making the theme of dizziness go throughout the film, not only in that camera effect, but also in the story and characters. People really need to re-watch the movie, now knowing the inside secret to perceive it differently and start noticing hints of how obvious it all seems now. It’s very fun to do with many movies that have good twists where the whole movie is transformed into a different one the next time one watches it.

Double Indemnity

This was the first time I’ve ever seen or really heard of this film. After it finished I didn’t really feel amazed or surprised as much as the previous films shown in the class. Citizen Kane showed me how much work can be put into creating a grand environment for a film. Not even one environment but a whole other world that is centered around one character. With the overwhelming sets, amazing make up work for the aged characters, performances and the camera work that enhanced the experience in watching the film. Also in M, that film presented how a story can capture a political message and still be incredibly entertaining and suspenseful. These two early films stood out to me as being something that I didn’t expect to feel so modern while watching. Double Indemnity on the other hand didn’t blow me away compared to the other films. I’m not sure if I should compare the films but they all do present a form of film noir, in my opinion. Dark themes of murder and death, visually they use dynamic lighting and a familiar cinematic style that all seem to resemble noir. Or at least the first films that were made gave inspiration and influence towards the noir genre.

That is where Double Indemnity began to be more than just a film to me. I realized that this film inspired many of the next noir films for future generations with specific angles, story elements, lighting style and more. The beginning mysterious entrance of a character we know nothing about, that is injured or hurt in some way, beginning to narrate to us what has happened. That is something that modern movies use to begin to tell their story, where the ending is what we see first. Films that use this technique are Slumdog Millionaire in a way, or Forrest Gump. More importantly, the suspense and mystery grows with the audience as the story unravels. In a writing standpoint, the narration helped tell us what happened and developed the main character slowly by seeing it through his eyes. One of the issues I had though, was that I don’t think his character was really developed enough. To me he was still a heavy mystery even by the end of the film. His sudden turn to loving Phyllis, even calling her baby and embracing her in his arms with a passionate kiss, was too unusual without enough reason. He seemed to accept the illusion of her love and played her little game. His character appeared smarter than that but was pulled in. A big issue I had was seeing a wedding ring on his finger.

There's a wedding ring on his finger. Why?

The film was shot with so much dark shadows around, that anything reflected by the light became noticeable. A wedding ring on the main character confused me the most. Every time I noticed it, it threw me out of the story. I don’t recall anything about him being married or a widower. I could begin to hypothesize that he did have a previous love who died and maybe Phyllis reminded him of her. This would also explain why he blindly agreed to take on such a risky operation. His actions seemed very illogical as I watched him go with the plan and put himself in such a bad situation when his job is to predict who is a safe client for insurance. It’s a very puzzling part of the film that kept distracting me from the rest of the story.

Besides him, the rest of the characters seemed a little underdeveloped as well. The daughter didn’t completely get understood until the ending where it is revealed how she sees her stepmother. The boyfriend and the husband as well weren’t developed as much either. It seems that the story reflected heavily on Walter and Phyllis, but Keyes became more of an important character towards the final act. This made the movie seem small and not in it’s own world like M or Citizen Kane. I would assume that the second world war had been a big reason on why Double Indemnity felt like a smaller budgeted film with the limited characters, not many locations and a lot of black on the screen. So much seemed covered up in shadows, I would understand doing that method if I had a limited budget in the production value. But for visual style, I guess it was meant to set a dark mood to express the war’s impact on the country.

Overall, the film was pretty well done. I still have some issues with parts of the film but it is the seed of many amazing movies, so I can appreciate it for that.

Orson Welles Interview

To start off I have never seen an Orson Welles film, so being unfamiliar with his work or characteristics, I am coming into this fresh and intrigued. With the small information about the film’s score, what caught my attention was the ending of Orson’s note to Herrmann, “I love you dearly.” I understand this has little to do with the film or music but this form of personal connection between the director and musical director is interesting to me. I don’t know if any of today’s film directors would ever use that sort of ending to a work-related letter or note. It could just be a friendly gesture of some kind but possible to have some hidden sexual meaning, I’m not aware of Welles’s sexuality but it did catch my attention. Another striking moment from the interview came when Welles’s said he filmed the movie behind the studio’s back by calling it testing shots. Amazing to hear such a daring process to filming it because if the studio didn’t like the work, they could have denied the release. Creatively it was a great idea because without any studio “spies”, everyone can be a real collaborative team to filming the best possible movie. I would be amazed if anyone in today’s film productions got away with this, because big studio films always require a lot of invested money and don’t want filmmakers sneaking behind their backs on a project.

Orson saying that he did his own lighting and felt like he could do it and direct as well, was very relatable to me. For myself, I imagined if I didn’t get a chance to be a film director or screenwriter, the last thing to go for would be director of photography. The job of being in control of the audiences eyes, it is fascinating to have so much responsibility but also so much creative fun. As Welles got help from Gregg Toland, I found it very bold to give Toland his own spotlight for his name in the credits. Today it is more common to give multiple people that spotlight, even when audiences don’t notice it. For Welles to do it in a time where it wasn’t common is what astonishes me. The director of photographer has an incredibly important job that should be recognized, even though Toland taught the basics to Welles over the weekend. Welles also begins to mention his doubts or self-conscious feelings towards the film. The issue of having too many upward angled shots revealing a ceiling, Welles says “I think I over-did it”. But I wonder if he’s talking about the low angle shots or the ceiling? Whichever it is, it’s good to see he has a perfectionist side that can present his artistic complexes.

On the other hand, he seems very unique in not looking through a lens for the shot. The idea that he doesn’t need to look through the lens to see if it’s good or not is amazing. The confidence in holding out a hand and saying this is where the camera should go, is remarkable. I thought most directors use a storyboard for a visual guide. Personally I think every director should storyboard the script before production starts to be prepared and focused for the filming. Welles not doing any of that and having this intuitive, spontaneous decision making is really  different from modern directors. Preparation should be a key thing for filming, Welles seems to be saying that if a director has different camera views, that director is doubting the work. I’m not exactly sure I can agree because scenes in any film can’t be presented in only one view. There are different emotions and actions that need to be present in a scene at different moments. To keep a camera view frozen on one view for a full scene would be kind of boring or stiff. I haven’t seen any of his films before so I’m not sure if my assumption is correct on his camera methods on film. For me I definitely draw out specific angles I want by preparing storyboards.

By the way, the “I’m expiring” excuse is a really funny way to finishing an interview. I wonder if any one of us would be as daring.