Thursday, 7 January 2016



Every so often you decide to revisit something you never particularly liked, to see if your tastes have changed, to see if this time it just clicks or to see if he/she/it has improved. The example I usually go back to is something like the Paranormal Activity films, which I got steadily more fed up with as the series went on, to the extent that I passed on a couple of them and then poked my head round the door a few years later to see if they'd developed in any meaningful way. (They hadn't.) Every so often I have another stab at the Thunderball soundtrack, because I can't believe how much I hate it given how much I love John Barry's other Bond scores - but I can't ever play the CD to the end.

Or Jean-Luc Godard. Maybe I've just chosen the duffers in the JLG filmography, but after the triple whammy of Alphaville (took me three goes), A Bout De Souffle (probably loses something when not viewed in an early sixties Paris cinema surrounded by riots and Communists and a fug of Gauloises) and Weekend (tedious political hectoring-a-gogo) I was really minded to give up. But hey, it's only 68 minutes long, and some of the reviews seem positive, so what can possibly go wrong?

Watching Goodbye To Language is basically like watching an old man mumbling to himself (in French) while flipping randomly between the three lowest-rent channels on his Skybox: the Dog Walking Channel, the Show Us Your Bum Channel and the What's On These Old VHS Cassettes We Found In A Skip? Channel. It's a non-narrative random assemblage of assorted bits and pieces which could be threaded together in any order to precisely the same lack of effect. Detailing the plot is no more revealing than reading one of JL's old shopping lists, but amongst the highlights there's a dog, wandering about in the woods, or swimming in the river. Sometimes it's snowing, sometimes it's raining. There's a couple who stand around naked from time to time, occasionally they argue some abstruse philosophical point while he takes a dump and she stands in front of him. (Who the hell are these people?) For some reason her armchair is facing away from their widescreen TV. Are animals naked? Someone talks about Solzhenitsyn and Hitler, and Mary Shelley shows up towards the end. The screen goes blank occasionally but the waffle continues, occasionally overlaid with the same four sombre bars of Tchaikovsky's Fifth.

All of which I could more or less understand, if not enjoy, were it not slung together with the technical skill of a first-year Media student well on his way to scraping a D minus for his coursework and not the co-winner of the 2014 Cannes Jury Prize by the much-acclaimed homme vieux terrible of the Nouvelle Vague. Half of it looks to have been shot with Fisher-Price's My First Camcorder, with the background ambient sound cutting in and out and the music dropped in so cack-handedly you half expect that vinyl scratch sound effect every time it stops. Apparently bits of it are in brain-scrambling 3D in which your eyes will each be looking at different things. (I saw it flat.) It would be tempting (and very easy) to just back away slowly and inform the nursing staff that he's out of bed again, but surely, surely there has to be something more to it? What am I missing? I'm not the world's biggest dunce (shut up) but I simply don't get the joke - or does that make ME the joke?

Not that it makes a scrap of difference: Godard's experiment, if it is an experiment rather than an elaborate long-form prank in which he's been punking the highbrows for more than half a century with deliberately incomprehensible hogwash to see how long before they stop taking any notice of him, is an unwatchable bore, in however many dimensions it's viewed, and it's easily the least enjoyable or interesting film I've seen in a long time. My experiment, however, was a complete success as I can now safely write JLG off for at least another three years. I really have better things to do. And if I don't, I'll find some.


No comments: