Friday, December 12, 2008

"...protecting the rights of poor folk." (The class warfare of Arthur Penn's, Bonnie and Clyde)

"They will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage; they will not plant and someone else do the eating."

Isaiah 65: 21,22

In a symbolic gesture of solidarity as simple, righteous, and revolutionary as allowing a poor farmer to keep his money, while robbing a bank of its money, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) legitimizes and justifies everything that he and his gang do, throughout Arthur Penn's lurid manifestation of the French New Wave, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). At least, in my eyes, it legitimizes and justifies everything that they do. But for those obedient, law-abiding citizens who unquestioningly accept the laws that some of us view as nothing more than insidious mechanisms for the perpetuation of the class system, Clyde's gesture--at least--illuminates a legitimate moral counterbalance, against the gang's--otherwise--anarchistic criminality, that is difficult for a conscious soul to ignore.

The actions of Clyde Barrow and his gang--in the spirit of John Steinbeck's mythological, migrant antihero, Tom Joad--highlight the vast gulf that often exists between genuine justice, and the law, and in doing so, call into question the very foundation on which the average citizen bases his or her perceptions of criminals and criminality. And in this respect, no era in American history could serve as a more exemplary contextual backdrop, for a time marked by the confusion of conventional ideas of right and wrong, than the Great Depression. Simply put, in an era when banks ceaselessly and mercilessly throw farmers and their families off of their land--land that these families have commonly farmed for generations--than the banks and the law that protects them, become the enemies of the people. And thus, any form of resistance or retribution is legitimate and justified.

The systematic attrition--and eventual extinction--of the family farmer, is one of the most infuriating and lamentable injustices of the Great Depression, in particular, and in the saga of the class struggle in the United States, in general. And in Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde Barrow--the son of sharecroppers--and his gang, are fighting a war against the shameless enemy of this inestimable number of forsaken farming families. This of course explains the repeated scenes of solidarity we see between the Barrow gang and the farmers that they encounter.

One of the first of such scenes (and perhaps my favorite), is when Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde are camped out at an abandoned farmhouse. As they are outside taking target practice with their pistols, the farmer who used to own the farm happens upon them while he is taking one "last look" at the empty house and fallow land that the "Midlothian Citizen's Bank" now owns. As the farmer tells them of how the "bank took it...[and] moved us off," we see that he has his wife and kids, and everything they own, piled high in his truck--assumedly to join the great "okie" diaspora to California (And it was indeed a diaspora, because regardless of natural calamities of drought, wind, and heat, what would ultimately disperse this vast wave of distraught farming families--westward--from the great plains, would be the venal and deplorable proclivities of the banks).

This mournful scenario was played out an innumerable number of times during the Depression, and is lucidly depicted in the following passage from John Steinbeck's invaluable story of this shameful period in America's history, The Grapes of Wrath:

"And a homeless hungry man, driving the road with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat, could look at the fallow fields which might produce food but not profit, and that man could know how a fallow field is a sin and the unused land a crime against the thin children....And in the south he saw the golden oranges hanging on the trees, the little golden oranges on the dark, green trees; and guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low...."

So when Clyde hands the farmer the pistol--after taking a few self-gratifying shots himself--and the farmer and his farmhand, "Davis," (who the farmer had "put in the years" on the farm with) take their shots at the empty house and the "Property-of Midlothian-Citizen's-Bank" sign that is out front of the house, there are smiles on everyone's faces (including us viewers). Not only this, but a conscious, compassionate soul is stirred, and ready to see some banks get robbed.

There are indeed a number of other scenes that convey the aforementioned solidarity and appreciation for the Barrow gang's class warfare. For instance, after Bonnie and Clyde have both been wounded, and C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), in desperate need of "drinking water," happens upon a shanty town of homeless, migrant farmers, the farmers not only give the gang water, but food as well. Likewise, when the Barrow gang captures Captain Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle), Clyde--laughing about the confusion of conventional ideas of right and wrong--recalls how "down in Duncanville last year...poor farmers kept you laws from us with shotguns." One again, when the banks, and the law protecting them, become the enemies of the people, than anyone attacking the banks and the law, becomes the friend of the people.

Of course, Captain Hamer, who is a Texas Ranger, catches up with the Barrow gang in Missouri, attempting to catch them and get "the extra reward money" that the banks are offering for them. Here, Clyde appropriately admonishes Captain Hamer's blatant disregard for his duty to protect and serve back in his own state, by reminding him that he "ought to be home protecting the rights of poor folk."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Burning Bridges (addendum)

So, the first part of this...hmmmmmmm...discussion...yeah, sure, this discussion about Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, was impulsively scribbled right after we viewed that weirdness in class last Tuesday. And now, sitting here at my desk with a hot cup of Cafe Bustelo, in the genial comfort of my apartment, on this delicious Sunday morning--after yesterday's snow-storm--I see that what I wrote last Tuesday, was indeed an emotional put it mildly.

And I meant every fucking word of it. And Godard's punk ass would probably be quite pleased about fucking with someone's emotions to such a degree--although he would probably be surprised about what exactly has me so vexed. Because, aside from the utterly pointless slaughter of animals, I feel Godard on pretty much everything he condemns and is pissed about, and likewise, I feel Godard's unique and confrontational ways of expressing these things. Weekend is--quite literally--in a category of filmmaking all by itself. With Weekend, Godard has taken the film, as an art form, and brought it to a disquieting, acrid, and "alienating" (as the truth often is) extreme that transcends the banality and benignity of mere "entertainment." Simply put, Weekend is as close to being a weapon--of sorts--as a work of art can get.

But... is still nevertheless, merely a work of art--and a work of art that caused the completely unnecessary and horrendous suffering of a few innocent, sentient animals. A few animals that some of us consider as precious and important as any human asshole running around. I've physically--had to--hurt (and been hurt by) a number of other human beings over the years, but I've never hurt (or been hurt by) an animal. They simply do not have it coming--at all. Aside from that, there is that mortal debacle that Milan Kundera writes about in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."

Now, Professor Shaviro, I'm sure that if you understood how serious some of us are about all of this, than I assume that you wouldn't have sarcastically and dismissively commented about not knowing Godard's "culinary politics," during our discussion in class. Fuck Godard and his "culinary politics." With all due respect, to reduce this issue to nothing more than a person's "culinary politics," is to take the typical, benighted, myopic, gluttonous perspective of a consumer. The animal and its well-being, isn't even a factor in that equation. Or as Matthew Scully puts it:

"When you look at an [animal] and see only a pest, or vermin, or a meal, or a commodity, or a laboratory subject, you aren't seeing the [animal] anymore. You are seeing only yourself and the schemes and appetites we bring to the world."

I cannot overstate how much I share Godard's disgust and disillusionment with things, or how much I agree with him about pretty much everything I've seen him attack in his films--especially consumerism. And even more so, the United States' malignant and ruinous extreme of consumerism. But Godard's irreverent disregard for the value of something as simple and precious as the life of a pig, is--in my eyes--the same kind of disregard that underlies consumerism, and it is also a lucid manifestation of the same kind of cursed human audacity that defined the United States' behavior in Vietnam. It is this same kind of infuriating disregard and human audacity that has culminated in the ceaseless, industrialized, torturous, systematic, merciless slaughter of over 700,000 animals--700,000 sentient creatures--every hour of every day, in our country's modern "factory farms." That breaks down to--among all of the other animals killed daily--over 90,000 cows and calves every 24 hours, over 355,000 pigs every 24 hours, and over 14,000 chickens every motherfucking minute.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated."

Mahatma Gandhi

Burning Bridges

As this final section of our semester has run its course, and the Godard films have--as we were warned they would--become increasingly non-linear, unsettling, "alienating" (as the truth often is), abrasive, confrontational, and idealistic, I have increasingly dug what I have been seeing. I--feel I--completely understand why he was so disgusted with what was happening throughout the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s. I do think that those particular fifteen-to-twenty years were a dismal watershed for the planet as a whole--but especially for all of the countries that can be lumped into the ignominious category of "the west."

My increasing fondness for Godard and his films, is not simply the result of my perspective of mankind's social, political, and industrial structures being from as far left as Godard's increasingly was. You do not have to be a communist or a socialist to be mortally disheartened and infuriated by circumstances like the United States' barbaric behavior in--among other places--Vietnam, or the increasing pervasiveness of the hollow and cursed consequences of western consumer culture, or the ceaselessly widening gap between rich and poor, or the all-out industrial/technological assault on the environment.

But it helps--to at least channel this anger and concern. The recurrent and acute anti-Americanism in Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Masculin Feminin (1966), Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), and finally Weekend (1967) is by all means warranted. The United States was and is the breeding ground for pretty much every deplorable, regrettable, and ruinous debacle plaguing this planet--either directly or indirectly, you can trace most of it back to "the good ol' U. S. of A." So for the most part, I have been increasingly on the same page as Godard, as we have been following him along his filmic evolution--or devolution.


...with Weekend, Godard has lost--even--me. For one gigantic fucking reason that I couldn't ignore if I tried--he actually kills animals. I am one of those anomalies that does not exalt human life over any other creature's life, and by slaughtering animals in his film, Godard--in my eyes--has reduced himself to the level of any murderous American soldier running around in Vietnam, annihilating "women and children." Fuck him--if I'd of been there when they disemboweled that pig, I'd of grabbed that motherfucking sledgehammer that they knock the pig in the head with, and knocked Godard up against his motherfucking head.

In Weekend, by actually slaughtering actual, living animals just for the sake of "art," Godard has--in my eyes--descended to the absolute nadir of hipsterdom. Which is something I've mentioned in class anyway. If he had half of the heart he seems to have become obsessed with portraying in his films, he'd of picked up a gun and started some shit. Instead of trying to shock and offend people with some half-ass, jive bullshit about cannibalistic, hippy, revolutionaries going "back to the land," throw a fucking pipe-bomb through the window of a police station, start the shit, and get it over with--incite the change.

That's my whole fucking problem with hipsters and artists (which plague this city), instead of taking part in relevant forms of resistance, rebellion and civil disobedience, they just self-indulgently produce cowardly, hollow, half-hearted, only-when-it's-convenient, banal "works of art" about revolutionary bullshit. Yeah yeah, Godard illuminates some relevant and fundamental problems with the world in Weekend, and I understand why he would want to burn the proverbial bridge between him and the film industry, the art world, and the popular culture of the time--but when he slaughtered some innocent animals in the process of doing it, he burned the bridge with me as well. I'll bust that motherfucker in his head if I ever see him...

"...I cannot expect mercy if I am unwilling to give it."

Matthew Scully


Friday, December 5, 2008

"...the bill to come."

The entire time I was watching Jean-Luc Godard's, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, I was thinking about Mathieu Kassovitz's invaluably jarring film, La Haine. Especially during the scene where Juliette (Marina Vlady) is speaking in some random courtyard of a French housing project, and Godard has shot her only from the neck up. Even if those housing projects were not vast, sprawling, towering "rat cages" for human beings--which they indeed are--by only shooting Juliette from the neck up, Godard shrinks her presence in the scene to an even greater degree, and in doing so, lucidly conveys Juliette's--lamentable--insignificance in the grand scheme of what passes for "progress." The "housing project" in general, as a solution to the housing of large numbers of poor, forsaken people, has proven to be an utter failure--no matter what country they are in. And as a remedy to the societal debacle they are supposed to be ameliorating, they will go down in history as one of the worst examples of human indifference towards the well-being of other human beings.

The aforementioned relationship between Two or Three Things I Know About Her, and La Haine, can be expressed with the simple equation of cause and effect. In the repeated conveyances of human-forsakenness, and perpetuations of "class discrimination" that are inherent in "the planning of Paris," as depicted by Godard in Two or Three Things I Know About Her, we have the cause. And in the logical, inevitable, and understandable violence and unrest in La Haine, we have the effect.

In general, Godard is lamenting the sprawling freeways and--exponential--covering-up of the countryside with vast tracts of cement and concrete. "A landscape is like a face," is repeated in the dialogue, and the faces we see, are the mutilated and burned faces of Vietnamese citizens (the United States' deplorable war in Vietnam, of course, being another primary focus of condemnation in this film). So if a landscape is indeed, "like a face," than the face that Godard saw around Paris back in 1967, was a gruesome and scarred one. The manic sense of "progress" that was/is gripping the western world, not only continued at the expense of a vast multitude of human beings, but at the expense of the land as well.

In Two or Three Things I Know About Her--"Her" being Paris--Godard's condemnation of what was occurring, shows a prophetic foresight for what seems to be the inevitable consequences of mankind's manic sense of "progress"--this manic sense of "progress" being illustrated continuously throughout the film by repeated shots of construction. Aside from stranding large numbers of poor French citizens far from the hubs of activity, commerce, and employment, and expecting them to live in vast, sprawling, towering "rat cages" for humans, you then add to these already volatile circumstances, the pervasive police brutality and repeated, "accidental" deaths of youths in these housing projects, which are depicted in La Haine, and one has to ask: why wouldn't the people attack police stations, and periodically have country-wide uprisings

In this regard, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, is a lucid illustration of the early stages of the kind of human-forsaking, manic sense of "progress," which would ultimately result in the kind of country-wide riots that France has been rocked by in recent years. Despite a line in this film, where it is said that "no one knows what a city of the future will be like," Godard seems to have an idea. Back in 1967, as the Paris countryside was being destroyed, and large numbers of human beings--whose biggest sin in this world was being poor--were beginning to be corralled and housed like animals, Godard seems to have been one of the few to realize that there was going to be an--understandably--costly and destructive "bill to come."