Sunday, November 20, 2011

Knock on the Lens

“One of the first Brechtian commandments is that the audience should never forget it is at the theatre" – Bernard Dort, "Towards a Brechtian Criticism of Cinema” (p. 237)

Pierrot le Fou is littered with reminders that the audience is watching a film.  Employing such Brechtian technique abruptly ends any attempt on the part of the audience to live inside of the fantasy in the film: to project themselves on to the protagonist as he/she kills the bad guy or woos the maiden. Below are a few examples from Pierrot le Fou.

Exhibit A: As we view footage of Ferdinand and Marianne racing through the south of France, Godard abruptly inserts a shot of the word cinema flashing in neon lights. A subtle nudge one is viewing a film. 

Exhibit B: Ferdinand and Marianne are driving through the countryside when Ferdinand “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks directly to camera. When Marianne asks, “who are you talking to?” Ferdinand replies, “the audience.” 

Godard is clear: this film is not the place for you to live out your fantasies.

Brecht used this technique to push the audience away; to give them a critical distance from the play which would allow them to rationally assess the content.  Godard doesn’t seem to employ this method for the same purpose, instead he uses it to ask us to reconsider film as a type of music or language. As we witness one absurd aside after another, expectations of a cohesive story disintegrate. The beginning of the film has little to nothing to do with the end. The movie moves along a road and each scene is a town that will be driven through but not returned to. Godard asks us to reconsider film as a kind of music – no plot just ideas. Strung together one after the other. No story just language. No movie just cinema. 

Mike O'Malley

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