Posted in: by David Coursen, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2023

We welcome 2024 with one last look back at the best releases of 2023.

As most of us are no longer full-time critics, we haven’t had the same access to films as most film critics. Thus these are snapshots of what we have been able to see, and what impressed us over the last year. We’ve also invited a few old friends to join the group this year.

Also, among those we lost in 2023 was Bruce Reid, former film critic at The Stranger and longtime Parallax View partner, contributor, and friend.

Contributors listed in reverse alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted).

Jeffrey Overstreet

Looking Closer

Ten Favorite Films of 2023 (listed alphabetically)

Asteroid City
Barbie
The Boy and the Heron
Four Daughters
Fremont
May December
No Bears (released in Seattle in February 2023)
Showing Up
Society of the Snow
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Moira Macdonald

As listed at Seattle Times

Favorite Movies of 2023

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Barbie
The Holdovers
Killers of the Flower Moon
Maestro
Oppenheimer
Past Lives
Sam Now
Stop Making Sense
You Hurt My Feelings

And Moira’s movie highlights of 2022 (in rhyme) can be found here.

Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro, and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ Photo credit: Apple Studios

Richard T. Jameson

Top ten in alphabetical order:

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
All of Us Strangers
Anatomy of a Fall
Fallen Leaves
The Holdovers
Killers of the Flower Moon
Oppenheimer
Past Lives
Showing Up
The Zone of Interest

Not to scorn Ferrari, Saltburn, You Hurt My Feelings, Barbie, May December, American Fiction, Poor Things, John Wick: Chapter 4, Knock at the Cabin, Maestro, The Killer, Fingernails, Nyad

Robert Horton

As featured on The Crop Duster

Top Tier:
Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki)
Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt)
Pacifiction (Albert Serra)
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson)
All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh)

Second Tier:
Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Trier)
Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)
A Thousand and One (A.V. Rockwell)
Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer)

Out of the 10, but Extremely Close Tier:
Walk Up (Hong Sang-soo), Maestro (Bradley Cooper), Asteroid City (Wes Anderson), The Holdovers (Alexander Payne), R.M.N. (Cristian Mungiu), Reality (Tina Satter)

Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen in ‘Fallen Leaves.’ Photo credit: MUBI

Kathy Fennessy

As featured on Andmoreagain

Top 10 
1. Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt) 
2. Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki) 
3. Afire (Christian Petzold) 
4. A Thousand and One (A.V. Rockwell) 
5. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne) 
6. May December (Todd Haynes) 
7. Enys Men (Mark Jenkin) 
8. Rye Lane (Raine Allen-Miller) 
9. The Five Devils (Léa Mysius) 
10. Fremont (Babak Jalali) 

Runners-up 
11. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese) 
12. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan) 
13. Priscilla (Sofia Coppola) 
14. Barbie (Greta Gerwig) 
15. Asteroid City (Wes Anderson) 
16. Past Lives (Celine Song)
17. The Killer (David Fincher) 
18. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh) 
19. Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet) 
20. Return to Seoul (Davy Chou) 

David Coursen

Films listed roughly in tiers

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson)
Anselm (Wim Wenders)
Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)

The Master Gardener (Paul Schrader)
Saint Omer (Alice Diop)
No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
May December (Todd Haynes)

The Holdovers (Alexander Payne)
Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)
Barbie (Greta Gerwig)

Honorable Mention: American Fiction (Cord Jefferson), Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt), Asteroid City (Wes Anderson), Turn Every Page (Lizzie Gottlieb), Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismaki), Strange Way of Life (Pedro Almodovar)

Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in ‘The Holdovers.’ Photo credit: Focus Features

Dennis Cozzalio

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

Best: (But It Goes to 11…):
1. Past Lives (Celine Song)
2. Revoir Paris (Alice Winocour)
3. You Hurt My Feelings (Nicole Holofcener)
4. John Wick Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski)
5. Carmen (Benjamin Millepied)
6. Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki)
7. Anselm (Wim Wenders)
8. Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismaki)
9. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Kelly Fremon Craig)
10. Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg)
11. Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt)

Next Ten: Ferrari (Michael Mann), The Night Of The 12th (Dominik Moll), It Ain’t Over (Sean Mullin), Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan), No Hard Feelings (Gene Stupnitsky), Talk To Me (Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou), May December (Todd Haynes), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (James Gunn), Barbie (Greta Gerwig), M3gan (Gerard Johnstone)

Best Revival: Stop Making Sense (In IMAX) (1984) (Jonathan Demme)

The Worst (In Descending Order): Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania (Peyton Reed), 80 For Brady (Kyle Marvin), Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi), The Exorcist: Believer (David Gordon Green), Asteroid City (Wes Anderson)

Still to See: Poor Things, American Fiction, Maestro, Napoleon, Monster, 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture

Sean Axmaker

Stream on Demand

1. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh)
2. Perfect Days (Wim Wenders)
3. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)
4. R.M.N. (Cristian Mungiu)
5. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos)
6. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)
7. Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt)
8. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne)
9. American Fiction (Cord Jefferson)
 10. Barbie (Greta Gerwig)

Ten honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Afire (Christian Petzold), Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet), The Eight Mountains (Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch), Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismaki), Fair Play (Chloe Domont), Maestro (Bradley Cooper), Origin (Ava DuVernay), Past Lives (Celine Song), A Thousand and One (V.A. Rockwell), You Hurt My Feelings (Nicole Holofcener)

Ten films that made filmgoing fun in 2023: Asteroid City (Wes Anderson), Bottoms (Emma Seligman), The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki), Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki), John Wick: Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski), Lola (Andrew Legge), Polite Society (Nida Manzoor), Saltburn (Emerald Fennell), Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson)

Andrew Haigh in ‘All of Us Strangers.’ Photo credit: Photo credit: Searchlight Pictures

Polls / Lists

Sight and Sound / BFI

Slant Magazine

Roger Ebert.com

Indiewire Critic’s Poll

Seattle Film Critics Society lists

The National Society of Film Critics awards

The Seattle Film Critics Society awards

The Online Film Critics Society awards

Other lists

2023 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Kristin Thompson’s Ten Best Films of … 1933

Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2023

Here’s the Parallax View list for 2022

Remembering those we lost in 2023

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Meet the Americans: John Doe and George Clooney – DVDs of the Week

[originally published December 28, 2010]

Meet John Doe: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (VCI)

Frank Capra’s last feature before leaving Hollywood to contribute his filmmaking talents to the war effort is his most populist piece of social commentary, a cynical satire of a publicity stunt that turns into a popular political movement.

Barbara Stanwyck is equal parts street-smart spunk and ferocious ambition as Ann Mitchell, a newspaper columnist swept out with the rest of the staff when a new owner takes over and leaves a kiss-off piece that starts a ruckus, drives sales and puts her in a prime position to negotiate a new contract, providing she keeps delivering her voice-of-the-people. Gary Cooper is at his laconic, everyman best as former minor league pitcher Long John Willoughby, now a homeless, unemployed drifter hired to play the role of Ann’s fictional John Doe, the voice of the people whose “letters” she writes for the paper. He becomes the public voice, his lazy delivery, lanky body language and homespun spirit giving her words an authenticity that raises the depressed spirits of struggling Americans and sparks a spontaneous grass roots movement.

Read More “Meet the Americans: John Doe and George Clooney – DVDs of the Week”
Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays, Film Noir, Film Reviews

Stranger on the Third Floor: Notes on the First Film Noir

Film noir historians trace the roots back to the silent era and the full flowering to the war years, but most tend to agree that the first true American film noir came in the otherwise modest package of an ambitious B-movie crime thriller from 1940. Before the hard-boiled world of suspicious private eyes, double-crossing dames and a nocturnal urban jungle where deals and double-crosses are hatched with often fatal payoffs of The Maltese Falcon, and the slippery narrative and visual expressionism of Citizen Kane (an influence on the genre and a close relative if not actually a member of the immediate noir family), there was Stranger on the Third Floor, a paranoid murder thriller that, for all of its budgetary constraints, took viewers on a spiral of justified paranoia. This odyssey into the dark side of American life begins with the hopeless and helpless cries of innocence from a kid convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence and the apathy of a judge and jury (Elisha Cook Jr., soon to become a minor noir icon, delivers the appeals with a haunting plea and eyes watery with abject terror) and builds to a literal nightmare with images right out of the height of 1920 German Expressionist classics.

Plenty has been written about the nightmare sequence, which explodes out of the increasingly oppressive atmosphere created by director Boris Ingster and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (who became RKO’s house specialist for shadowy crime cinema and went on to shoot one of the greatest masterpieces of the genre, the sublime Out of the Past) and the guilty conscience of suddenly self-doubting newspaper reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) as much as the paranoid twists of the Frank Partos’ screenplay. As many historians have written, the stylized sequence of stark settings created largely by massive shadows thrown across a blank canvas of a screen dressed with exaggerated props was the first American expression of this distinctly German style (which, coincidentally, had since fallen out of favor under the Third Reich’s control of the German film industry). 70 years and scores of stylized noir offers later, it is still impressive and effective and not just for its evocation of paranoid nightmare or psychological terror. This sequence effectively replays the ordeal that hapless Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook) endures in the opening act, but this time around with Mike—the star witness for the prosecution—in his position, grilled by the cops and marched off to execution in a resigned, lifeless lockstep shuffle that echoes the worker slaves of Metropolis.

Read More “Stranger on the Third Floor: Notes on the First Film Noir”
Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Film Festivals, Silent Cinema

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2023: One Last Silent Movie Party at the Castro Theatre?

The 26th San Francisco Silent Film Festival was another joyous gathering of silent cinema fans, historians, scholars, and all stripes of movie buffs. Launched in 1995, the festival has grown from a single-day event to—excluding two years of Covid shutdowns—an annual, five-day celebration. It’s about the movies, of course, and this year SFSFF presented 20 features and seven shorts. But it’s also about the silent movie experience. All shows were accompanied by live music, from solo piano to small combos to a 10-piece mini-orchestra for the closing-night event, playing both archival music and original scores, many composed for the screenings.

Allan Dwan’s The Iron Mask, from 1929, opened the festival with a bittersweet farewell to the silents. The film, the swashbuckling final silent feature to star Douglas Fairbanks, has added resonance for SFSFF audiences because of the legacy of the Castro Theatre, the festival’s home for its entire 26 years. The new owners of the movie palace in the heart of the Castro district have controversially chosen to remove the seats and level the floor to turn it into a concert venue, which would effectively end its suitability as a screening space.

In many ways, The Iron Mask’s selection was a fitting farewell, as Fairbanks’s older kind of hero is shaped by loss and disappointment but still driven by duty and honor and, of course, friendship, to fight the good fight one last time. The final images are at once joyous and melancholic, a celebration of what has been accomplished as the end comes.

Continue reading at Slant Magazine

You can also read the essays written for the festival program book at the SFSFF website here.

Posted in: by John Hartl, Commentary, Contributors, Essays, Science Fiction

‘Shrinking Man’ reputation grows

Written by John Hartl in 2011, reposted in conjunction with 2023 SIFF showing of the film in tribute to the legacy of Hartl.

The Incredible Shrinking Man screens at the Egyptian at 1:30 pm on Sunday, May 14.

It’s always gratifying when a favorite film is discovered—or rediscovered in a way that creates a fresh perspective .

Such is the case with 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was enthusiastically received in its time but continues to grow in stature. Last year, it joined the National Film Registry of significant American films. In late August, it will be released by Universal as a single-disc DVD.

The latest reappraisal may have begun in 2005, when Time magazine’s Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel listed it as a top guilty pleasure and proposed that “it is long past time for a cult to form around its director, the late Jack Arnold, an efficient maker of B-pictures.” While similar 1950s films dealt with insects turning into monsters because of nuclear misadventures, Time pointed out that “this radical variation on that theme was (especially if you are a kid, eager to grow up, not down) scarier and more profound than the competitors.” Around the same time, Steven Spielberg, in a Turner Classic Movies special called Watch the Skies, singled out the film’s “message about not outer space but inner space, and about the soul and where does the soul go, and what is infinity? Is infinity out there or is infinity in here?”

Grant Williams in 'The Incredible Shrinking Man.' Photo credit: Universal Studios
Grant Williams in ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’

Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide had always given three out of four stars to The Incredible Shrinking Man. But recently Maltin added half a star and included a mostly new write-up: “Intelligent, serious approach, exceptional special effects for the period, and a vigorous leading performance (by Grant Williams) result in a genuine sci-fi classic, unsurpassed by later attempts.”

For years, the movie had been carried on DVD by only one chain (Best Buy), which included it in a couple of DVD collections of 1950s sci-fi movies, some of them directed by Arnold. Even the new disc will apparently be a bare bones release. Surely a Criterion release is in order.

Read More “‘Shrinking Man’ reputation grows”
Posted in: by David Coursen, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert C. Cumbow, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2022

A belated welcome to 2023 with one last look back at the best releases of 2022.

As most of us are no longer full-time critics, and many other are understandably wary about seeing movies in theaters at the moment, we haven’t had the same access to films as most film critics. Thus these are snapshots of what we have been able to see, and what impressed us over the last year.

Also, among those we lost in 2022 were friends and fellow film critics John Hartl, whose love of cinema defined the Seattle Times film coverage for his 38 year-tenure as the paper’s head film critic, and Sheila Benson, who was (among other achievements) the chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1981 to 1991 before moving north and making Seattle her home.

Contributors listed in reverse alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted).

Sean Axmaker

  1. EO (Poland, Jerzy Skolimowski)
  2. Women Talking (Sarah Polley)
  3. No Bears (Iran, Jafar Panahi)
  4. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniels, aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
  5. Tár (Todd Field)
  6. The Quiet Girl (Ireland, Colm Bairéad)
  7. Broker (South Korea, Hirokazu Koreeda)
  8. The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg)
  9. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)
  10. Athena (France, Romain Gavras)

Honorable mentions: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras), The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh), Decision to Leave (South Korea, Park Chan-wook), Kimi (Steven Soderbergh), Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Dean Fleischer-Camp), The Menu (Mark Mylod), The Outfit (Graham Moore), RRR (India, S.S. Rajamouli), She Said (Maria Schrader), Saint Omer (France, Alice Diop)

And these films made my year in viewing more fun: Barbarian (Zach Cregger), Catherine Called Birdy (Lena Dunham), Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill), Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Rian Johnson), The Northman (Robert Eggers), Vengeance (B.J. Novak), X (Ti West)

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

Adjusted for inflation and in alphabetical order:

Top Tier:
Both Sides of the Blade (Claire Denis)
Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi)

Rest of the Best:
Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid)
Ballad of a White Cow (Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moqadam)
Benediction (Terrence Davies)
Boy from Heaven (Tarik Saleh)
Hero (Asghar Farhadi)
Hive (Blerta Basholli)
Hit the Road (Panah Panahi)
In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo)
Master (Mariama Diallo)
Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
R.M.N. (Cristian Mungiu)

Honorable Mention:
Armageddon Time (James Gray)
Happening (Audrey Diwan)
Nope (Jordan Peele)
Till (Chinone Chukwu)

‘Tár’ Photo credit: Florian Hoffmeister / Focus Features

Robert Cumbow

No “Top Ten” or “Best” lists for me again this year. As always I prefer to just note my favorites (and acknowledge my limitations):

FAVORITE FILMS OF 2022
Vengeance
Tár
The Outfit
Crimes of the Future
Dead for a Dollar

PROPS TO:
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All At Once
X
Barbarian
The Menu

APOLOGIES TO THESE THAT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST BUT I HAVEN’T SEEN THEM YET:
Blonde
The Fabelmans
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Elvis
Decision to Leave
Something in the Dirt

Kathy Fennessy

  1. EO (Jerzy Skolimowski) 
  2. Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook) 
  3. Benediction (Terence Davies) 
  4. Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg) 
  5. Lost Illusions (Xavier Giannoli) 
  6. Happening (Audrey Diwal) 
  7. Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) 
  8. X (Ti West) 
  9. Great Freedom (Sebastian Meise) 
  10. Compartment Number 6 (Juho Kuosmanen)
‘Crimes of the Future.’ Photo credit: Nikos Nikolopoulos / Serendipity Point Films

Robert Horton

Top tier:
Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg).
Happening (Audrey Diwan).
The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg).
Tár (Todd Field).

Second tier:
The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad).
The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh).
Hit the Road (Panah Panahi).
In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo).
EO (Jerzy Skolimowski).
Watcher (Chloe Okuno).

Third tier:
Utama (Alejandro Loayza Grisi).
The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg).
Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).
Close (Lukas Dhont).
Three Minutes: A Lengthening (Bianca Stigter).
Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic).
Benediction (Terence Davies).

(originally published at The Seasoned Ticket)

Richard T. Jameson

The 2022 movie I regarded as the best for most of the year was Watcher, the debut feature of Chloe Okuno — a film of Hitchcockian intelligence with no need to strew Hitchcock hommages.

The movie that now claims top line of my list is Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, the kind of film with the power to adjust the world.

The 2022 movies I love most are The Banshees of Inisherin, by Martin McDonagh, and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans.

In alphabetical order, the remainder of my Ten Best are:
Broker (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Dead for a Dollar (Walter Hill)
Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)
Happening (Audrey Diwan)
No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
Tár (Todd Field).

I also want to highlight the extraordinary beauty and power of Taylor Sheridan’s ten-part streaming series 1883.

Moira Macdonald (Seattle Times)

(in alphabetical order)
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Tár
Turning Red

(originally published at Seattle Times)

And Moira’s movie highlights of 2022 (in rhyme) can be found here.

‘The Fabelmans.’ Photo credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Polls / Lists

Sight and Sound / BFI

Slant Magazine

Roger Ebert.com

Indiewire Critic’s Poll

The National Society of Film Critics awards

The Seattle Film Critics Society awards

The Online Film Critics Society awards

Other lists

2022 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Kristin Thompson’s Ten Best Films of … 1932

Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2022

Here’s the Parallax View list for 2021

Remembering those we lost in 2022

Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews, Raoul Walsh

Me and My Gal

[Originally published on Straight Shooting at Queen Anne News, September 30, 2012]

Ed. note: republished to mark its availability streaming on Criterion Channel this month.

Just a quick recommend, before it’s too late. One of my very favorite movies is making a rare TV appearance Monday, Oct. 1, at 5 p.m. West Coast time on Turner Classic Movies. To “very favorite” let me add an endorsement from an erstwhile colleague and friend, the late Donald Lyons. When, in the early 1990s, a New York City–area PBS station was about to show Me and My Gal as part of a package of rare Fox Films productions from the 1930s, I urged Donald to catch it. A few minutes after the telecast ended, he phoned to say, “You told me to be sure and watch Me and My Gal. You didn’t tell me it was one of the best movies ever made.”

Read More “Me and My Gal”
Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Jean-Luc Godard

Sauve qui peut (la vie) – Jean-Luc Godard begins again

[Originally published in The Weekly, March 11, 1981]

A conversation early in the new film by Jean-Luc Godard:
“Is it a novel, this project you’re working on?”
“No, but maybe it could be.”
“Maybe it should be a new type of serial—how things really are.”
“It wouldn’t work around here.”

The thing about Godard movies is, he’s always talking to us. Talking to us about himself, talking to us about us, talking to us about talking to us. We don’t think about this all the time because movies are seductive, even movies that work to be analytical and disjunctive and Brechtian, and we get drawn along by the beauty of the images and the movement of things via 24 still pictures per second. But every once in a while we snap into recognition that we’re on the other end of a cinematic conversation.

Like that moment in Band of Outsiders (1964), a wacky, funny-sad romantic comedy about three young Parisians who like gangster movies and musicals, and decide they’re going to rob an isolated mansion where one of them, the girl, works. Except of course the movie dithers around a lot while they take English lessons and do a solemn softshoe in a juke bar and break the world’s speed record for touring the Louvre — and suddenly they’re on this train. The girl starts to sing a love song that turns into a ballad of loneliness. The screen fills with luminous nocturnal images of the city, streets, windows, pedestrians, the long glowworm of the train sliding toward the suburbs. Then the girl is onscreen again and she looks right into the camera and sings the last line of the song, something like “My heart goes out to all of you,” and suddenly you feel as big as the night sky and as vulnerable as a newborn child. Part of it is that the whole movie has been building on this theme without getting explicit about it. Part of it is that the girl is beautiful and fragile and brave, and also Anna Karina, the director’s wife, who’s essentially looking at him the same time she’s looking at us. And part of it is that Karina is speaking for Godard, who could never make this declaration of love and caring in person, but makes it and means it, through her and through his glorious film.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Essays, Jean-Luc Godard

Vivre sa vie – A Life to Live in 12 Chapters

[Originally published for the UW Continuing Education Office of Cinema Studies, January 23, 1983]

By a strange process of free association I hope eventually to justify, watching a couple of Lily Tomlin’s character sketches on Saturday Night Live this past weekend reminded me of Godard’s rectangular portrait of Anna Karina/Nana Klein in Vivre sa vie. One sketch featured Edith, a wizened-wise little girl who pontificates from a huge rockingchair, dreaming up all manner of bizarre mischief and fantastic scenarios in which she must always be the star. This particular skit ended with Edith’s sudden fear of heavenly retribution for all her egocentric naughtiness. She confides that God has a television set and that he watches us on it: “When I think he’s watching me, I always try to do a commercial for myself … to show him how good I am.” In an earlier sketch, Tomlin had verified the trustworthiness of a “public service announcement” and her own spokesperson sincerity by stating: “I am not a professional actress, but a real person just like you.” Tomlin’s satirical jibes at the power of media/mediated realities to confer or deny authenticity, even the odor of sanctity, began to work for me as a comedic version of the complex collisions of art and reality in Vivre sa vie (1962). Godard’s fourth feature film is nothing if not a commercial for the “goodness” (a term I use in the Godardian, cinematic sense) of Anna Karina/Nana Klein—whether for the edification of a God who watches us all in the movies or the Platonic ideal of film critics, I would not venture to say. Vivre sa vie exemplifies the aesthetic paradoxes implicit in Godard’s critical premises about cinema, paradoxes which, more superficially, are at play in actress-comedienne Lily Tomlin’s assumption of a “real person” persona in a comic skit designed to create the illusion of pseudodocumentary.

Godard was after nothing less than Truth in the making of movies. His aesthetic politique was radicalized, if not politicized, from the beginning. As an intellectual, more given to the raptures of analysis than emotion, he could see that the genteel fraud of cinematic Art-with-a-capital-A could seduce audiences by means of artifice, creating a comfortable schism between cinema and ordinary experience. One could go into the dark and dream in a willing suspension of disbelief, but the light of day chemically redefined that suspension: dispersion of the components of the dream in liquid reality. Godard, like many of his compatriots in literature, painting, and even sculpture, consciously decided to sabotage the seductive forms and manifestations of art and artifice. The images in his movies would have the dream-stopping immediacy of newsreels or machine-gun fire in the theater aisles. He attacked the beguiling concept of plot, that aesthetic form we so cherish for its orderly shaping of experience into a beginning, middle, and end, a coherent, directed narrative itinerary which satisfies us as messy reality never—or rarely—does. His attack failed, of course, or rather turned into something else, something that allowed for the creation of his best films. For the moment Godard turned the camera on person or scene, he “framed” it, and thereby began the process of making fiction. His eye was too drawn to richly significant images and events, and too able to provocatively juxtapose them, to avoid narrative altogether. Every directorial decision he made toward the end of de-dramatizing his work metamorphosed that work into something new in the world of cinema.

Read More “Vivre sa vie – A Life to Live in 12 Chapters”
Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Jean-Luc Godard

Pierrot le Fou – Love, hate, action, violence, death

[Originally published on TCM.com on November 19, 2007]

Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most important film director of the 1960s, began the decade with his feature debut Breathless, a scrappy, free-spirited, cinematically audacious take on the B-movie crime genre. By the end of the sixties, he had all but rejected commercial cinema for politically pointed commentaries and film essays like Sympathy For the Devil and Le Gai Savoir.

Smack in the middle of the genre goofing and cinematic game-playing of Godard’s earlier sixties film and the consumer satire and cultural deconstructions of his late sixties films lies Pierrot le Fou (1965). Not that there was some sudden turn in direction; Godard embraced both sides throughout and they blur in so many films of this era. But Pierrot feels like a perfect midpoint (whether or not you could even objectively measure such a thing) in the way that it bounces between the flippant play of moviemaking fun and the social commentary on the modern world.

Pierrot le Fou is a road movie, a crime fantasy, a cultural satire, a tale of consumerist alienation and bourgeois apathy, and a femme fatale noir in Technicolor and CinemaScope, shot in the bright sunlit canvas of broad daylight. Jean-Paul Belmondo, star of Breathless, plays Ferdinand, a former teacher pushed into an advertising career by a wealthy wife with high-society values: “You’ll do as your told,” she demands as they get ready for a party where she hopes he will be offered a job, and he bristles at the empty life he inhabits, escaping only through his books. Anna Karina, Godard’s one-time muse and wife (their divorce became final before the shoot was over), is Marianne Renoir, niece of Ferdinand’s brother-in-law and the family babysitter.

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