When it comes to the “art film,” my ignorance is bliss. Oh, I’ve seen more than my fair share, but I doggedly refuse to see them as art films. I’m not clever enough to provide snappy answers to stupid questions; all I’ve ever wanted--cliché of clichés--is to be wise enough to know when to shut up. My voice is tame, my wisdom tepid.
Here, though, is what I am smart enough to know: Those things I love that I don't understand hold me like a simple object gently in the palm, and measure my inconsiderable heft, and toss me; and I’m happy while in flight. The nagging suspicion that I cannot simply love a movie, but must understand it, can deaden me to the core.
This happens to me especially when I watch a film by Jean-Luc Godard: Contempt, My Life to Live, Breathless. They fill me with a kind of blind joy--and whenever I chide myself for that blindness, I try to emulate my betters, like Milton, who bore his mild yoke as he considered how his light was spent, and stood and waited, serving. I should be so lucky.
Band of Outsiders also blinds me. It’s
--and a discussion of the movie
--and of movie-making itself
--and deeply regretful that the discussion ever occurred
--and exhilarated by its lack of regret.
The contradictions may cancel each other out until I have nothing left to say, but this minor love-triangle/heist movie jumps off the sidewalk like firecrackers when it turns to itself interrogatively--and to us, asking us to consider the intersection of the narrative and the way it's filmed, the effect of voice-over narration, the impact of the actors on their roles--and the actors' acknowledgment of an audience, perhaps even of their own presence in a film. Add to that the contrite--or self-consciously trite?--attempts to retract distances--between narrative and audience, technique and experience--interrupted by the film itself, which refuses to settle down and simply be the movie--and we have guerrilla warfare waged against--for?--movie-making, freezing all cinematic elements until the only movement is somewhere in the director's eye, a reflection--but one we will never see, stuck in the audience, with just whatever the movie leaves us.
I cannot explain this; I cannot even explain why I like each Godard film I see better than the one before it. But in Band of Outsiders when the two crooks and their accomplice/victim line-dance in some little joint, solemn as any self-conscious performance, but matter-of-fact, almost carefree, while the narrator forces the music to cease while he speaks, cluing us in on the characters' thoughts--presenting them so flatly we suspect either the thoughts themselves or the fact that those are actually characters with thoughts--or even the narrator's account of the thoughts--I find all of those things I think I know about this movie crowding in, making me smile--then asking why I'm smiling.
And at the end, when murder will out, I am relieved by the choice of survivors, but wonder if I have overstepped my bounds by feeling anything at all. Still, I cannot simply assert that Godard is an extra clever cold son-of-a-bitch: I enjoyed Band of Outsiders too much. And I don’t see monumental precision, like the builders of the Pyramids, framing disdain for the observer with the perfect cold of a star's light. Godard works too fast, and tumbles in too much. Again, all I can explain is that I want to see another, and another. I am back to bliss, even though I have to close my eyes every once in a while--the humblest viewing of all--as it all passes by, hand-held and measured in meaningless seconds, like a blind sprint through the Louvre.