February 26, 2014

Archive Review: Band Of Outsiders Thoughts

(Written years ago... not the best writing by any means, but worth something at least)

A few nights back I finally watched Band of Outsiders the whole way through. I'll talk about it in a bit, but first off... There's this pattern I follow with just about almost every single Godard movie I've watched, and it's almost funny how clockwork it is, with exception to maybe one or two. I get excited beyond belief. I finally watch it. I can't sit through it. I hate it. I end up loving it.

This started 4 years ago when I started hearing more and more about Breathless. Everyone talked it up, and up, and up, to the point that I felt like I had to see it. I read every review I could find, I went through frame captures, and just got geared up for what I expected to be a fun, adventurous romp. Then I watched it, and could barely keep the disappointment from taking over. I still thought to myself that I had to have liked it, I just didn't realize it. Based on that, I got my brother to watch it, and this time, while I followed it and knew more of what to expect, the disappointment definitely took over. About a year later, I rewatched it, and it was alright, but nothing special. Again a year after that, and I actually like it. It is fun. The music's catchy as hell. The techniques are done so well and to such a good effect, that I can ignore a lot of problems with it, to realize that it's a ridiculously archetypal movie, done in a sort of off-putting but funny way.

Five years back, I started hearing about this apparently amazing Masculin-Feminin. Someone I knew told me about it, I pretended to know it, then looked it up. The film looked political, fun, stylish; The whole shebang. I got the Criterion edition for christmas, and spent the day staring at the record label dvd, and reading the frameset and essays going along with it. I was so ready to adore it.

I spent the next week trying to finish it. Without having finished it, I mentioned to someone that it was the most French movie I'd ever seen (which in many ways I wish were true), and so finished it by watching it the whole way through with that friend. And I hated it. I couldn't believe I'd wasted my time on such a cold, pretentious movie. I watched it months later as a demonstration of what kind of terrible movie could be made by the director, and watching it then, a part of me watching it started to really dig it. I didn't think much of it, other than the style's great, until early this fall when I watched it again with someone who expected to like it. She hated it. I just loved it the whole way through, and at this point, it's easy to see why: Jean-Pierre Leaud's cute yet abrasive attempts at fitting in, Chantel Goya's pop songs, the model interview, the Brigitte Bardot interview, the obsession with the waste and drama people create around them during youth, the gun shots that fire off each segment. It's absurd, it's difficult, and it's definitely my favorite movie Godard's ever made, bridging his politics and his fun, his Brecht and his Fuller, with some Stoppard thrown in.
(more after the jump)

This happened again for Alphaville and then La Chinoise. I saw Une Femme est Une Femme, and didn't hate it, but didn't like it, and the reasons I didn't like it were because of the stupidity yet absurdity of it--it's a joke concept, without anything behind it, and without a style to continue it. Around the same time I saw Contempt and loved it right off the bat, and think everyone should watch it, if only for the George Delerue score, though the fantastically terrible Fritz Lang movie within the movie is pretty amazing too. Watching these two, with an indifference instead of hatred, and then actual enjoyment of the second, made me think I'd gotten over the "Breathless" and "Masculin-Feminin" pattern. I got excited because I was about to watch "Band of Outsiders," which I'd spent the last month getting very excited about. I popped it in... and promptly fell asleep. Trying to watch it a week later, and I got irritated and gave up on it. That is until now, when the scenes I'd already seen started to be amazing, and the rest were even better.

Let me say right now, while not my favorite, and I won't recommend it to anyone who isn't willing to put in the months required to digest and get into it, "Band of Outsiders" is a fantastic example of why I mostly like Godard. Mostly. It's funny, it's cute. There's a girl and a gun, a pile of cash, 2 movie-obsessed gangsters, bike races, a moment of silence (in silence), a million plot detours grudgingly explained by the narrator (Godard's voice saying: "in honor of B movies they decided to wait until evening to make their movie"), the '30s ending, and of course the Madison (though the Nouvelle Vague "Dance With Me" video is better). It's not a great movie, but it's full of life. More than that, in the simplicity but general willingness to try, it's inspiring. I wrote a quick (terrible) heist treatment after watching it, and even now thinking about it, just overwhelmingly want to make something similar.

But of course "Band" has some pretty serious problems. First of all, like mentioned above, the entertainment value depends a lot on willingness of the viewer, as well as recognition of scenes and learning the specific language Godard has constructed for each movie. Beyond aesthetics, I don't find much. Some kids who are bored and won't fit in with society's rules, who need to be occupied with something at all times. Actually I guess that is some depth... but it still doesn't suggest anything past giving into that, as their lives do transform into a movie. Most offensive though is the sexism. I will like movies, ideas, and people despite some pretty atrocious politics or attitudes, and so I mostly laugh it off as just French men. But there's something about the fact that Anna Karina is seen as one of the the symbols of the French New Wave. There's something about the fact that considering the amount of focus is on her, and let's be honest almost all the movies of this generation focus on the heroines, mostly just to admire them--see Jules et Jim (which is one of the few movies I can say are nearly perfect), Antoine et Collette, Claire's Knee, etc. etc. But where in Truffaut they verge on learing at the beauty, they compensate somewhat by making the characters powerful, angry, and very much independent. In all of Godard's movies however, women are weak, clinging, deceitful, and utterly incapable of taking care of themselves. Again, tacky, but shouldn't be a problem, but when I read things suggesting that Anna Karina's character uses the two men, as evidenced by her dancing by herself at the end of the Madison, but that's almost beyond stretching. She spends the dance wondering to herself if "the boys notice how her breasts move under her sweater," she spends the first half of the movie being mocked and manhandled by Arthur, which she repays by paying him more affection. And Franz is no better, except he sees her as more of a sex object than Arthur does. To then consider that Karina was married to Godard at the time, and that her roles in the 60s are held up as examples of Godard's ability to render women fairly, it bothers me. A lot.

However, all this is unimportant when the amount of fun Godard is having with the material comes to play. From the beginning credits to the end, from the mirrored pool game to the "journey to the center of the earth," "Band" is evidence of a director and crew in love with movies and what they're doing. If only for that alone, I can forgive almost anything.

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