Amoeblog

The Ruse of Analogy: One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil, 1968)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 8, 2012 08:02pm | Post a Comment

[This essay originally appeared as part of The Hooded Utilitarian's roundtable on Jean-Luc Godard here.]

To begin with, a generalization: Godardians really don’t like Quentin Tarantino. But, fear not, this post isn’t going to be about the latter, only the reasons expressed by the Godardians for their contempt. Wasn’t it Jean-Luc Godard himself who argued against a clear distinction between the fictional film and the documentary? For him, being even more opposed to naïve realism than Andre Bazin, the camera always had a perspective, a position, or as Colin MacCabe puts it: “there is not reality and then the camera – there is reality seized at this moment and this way by the camera.” [p. 79] It was this foundational belief that led to Godard’s dismissal of the anti-aesthetic implicit within cinema vérité, that reality comes from letting the film roll. Yet, Jonathan Rosenbaum (and I might as well mention Daniel Mendelsohn and HU’s very own Caroline Small) condemns Inglourious Basterds for “mak[ing] the Holocaust harder, not easier to grasp as a historical reality,” because “anything that makes Fascism unreal is wrong.” Evidently, contrary to Godard, fascism is just there waiting to have a camera pointed at it. No truth could possibly come out of a fantasy involving Nazism.

In One Plus One, Godard films a neo-Nazi pornographic bookseller reading from Mein Kampf as his customers buy lurid novels and magazines -- each person who makes a purchase gives a Nazi salute and slaps two captured hippies in the face. Is Godard making fascism easier to understand as a historical reality? More likely, the viewer is confused at this unrealistic scenario, but hopefully intrigued (or entertained) enough to contemplate what all these component images are doing there together in the middle of a rockumentary, e.g..: What does pornography have to do with fascism? What does any of this have to do with The Rolling Stones (the ostensible subject)? Just what the hell is Godard saying?

Rosenbaum refuses to regard Tarantino with any sort of reflection (I suspect too much identification, aka “entertainment,” and not enough distanciation, aka “intellectual thought”). Inglourious Basterds is a film about other films, about movie conventions, and for that reason alone, “it loses its historical reality.” However, aren’t all of Godard’s quotations from films, news media, advertising and literature committed to the exact opposite point, that these images do have a historical reality in the way they construct/mediate who we are? If one is going to be derided for his narcissistic cinephilia (filtering everything through film), then the other should be, too. Rosenbaum mockingly quotes from an interview with Tarantino where he relates the 9/11 event to the spectacle of action films -- not one of the director’s prouder moments, to be sure. Now consider Godard’s statement from La Chinoise’s press book:

Fifty years after the October Revolution, American cinema dominates world cinema. There’s not much to add to this state of affairs. Only that at our modest level, we must also create two or three Vietnams at the heart of the immense empire, Hollywood-Cinecittà-Mosfilms-Pinewood, etc. as much economic as aesthetic, that’s to say struggling on two fronts, to create national cinemas, free, brotherly, comrades and friends. [p. 182, MacCabe]

Although MacCabe gives this a sympathetic spin, noting how Godard has always been aware that his “oppression” isn’t as “grievous” as what was done to the Vietnamese, there’s not much he can do with the foolhardiness of the director’s feeling “solidarity” with them because “his own experience” is “the very same predicament.” I’m going to assume that the imperialism of having too many theaters showing American movies is quite obviously not the oppression of a napalm bath, as a spectacle or otherwise, and move on.

Continue reading...