Sunday, November 20, 2011

A thought on style

After having watched Tout va bien (1972), I believe we all could not help but notice the “dollhouse” effect at the beginning of the film. This dolly shot right across the stage of the factory reminded me, as was briefly mentioned in class, of a Wes Anderson film. In The Life Aquatic, Anderson uses a similar, but tightly framed dollhouse effect as a stylistic technique. This prompted me to rhetorically ask the following question: what is the difference between a political film resulting in a particular style, verses personal style for style sake? One could argue that style for style sake is some higher concept of post-modernism at work, but that does not sit right with the relationship to Godard’s work.  Quotation and citation in a Godard work seem more than just empty references. In Tout va bien there is this consciousness about what is a film. At the beginning there is this uneven ground between the narrative lead-in to a film and contemplation of what a film consists of and what a film needs to be in order to become a film. Self-reflexivity only briefly describes the workings of the film, because Godard is accessing all the medium’s formal components, not with the intention of creating an aesthetically pleasing style, but the intention of creating a specific image, a specific political gesture. There is this multiplicity in a Godard film. Underneath the structure of the film, there is also an underlying struggle in distinguishing life from film, film from art, and art from life. Part of this is Godard’s pursuit and commentary on his own work, but another part is the philosophical struggle of a work of art itself. Then there is another contemplation of the politics, labor and modern French society.

The result of this dollhouse effect in Tout va bien is less about style, but what this effect does for the film. Film is normally perceived as limited to linear motion like a time line moving in forward motion from the beginning to the end of the narrative. Here, Godard uses the dollhouse effect as a temporal vision of spatial depth. The audience has the privilege of witnessing events simultaneously in real time, like one would in everyday activities. Events do not occur one right after the other, events happen simultaneously all at once. The dollhouse effect is an expression of time as what Eisenstein would consider, a form of spatial depth or temporal depth.[1] This notion of spatial depth is an extension of Eisenstein’s argument of superimposition to two conflicting images.[2] Instead of conflicting images, Godard creates a shot of congruent images distinguished by the frame of each individual room. Each room is uniquely different than the other, and each event taking place is uniquely different; however, the participants are only aware of the room they inhabit, and unaware of the happenings in other spaces. The factory becomes a vision of time as it exists, but only through an abstract representation like the dollhouse effect could this take place. For the purpose of this film, pursuit seems to trump style and rather style is a result of pursuit. 

In the Anderson film, it is more about homage to Godard’s work or simply the focus on aesthetics. The Brechtian influence is part of Godard’s film, and not so much as Anderson’s. I guess there is a struggle between what is homage, quotation, citation, style and aesthetic. What makes these methods powerful and what makes this just style for style sake? There is seems to be a contributive factor distinguishing these terms and that is usage. It is not enough to use homage without an engaging in the usage in a critical manner. The effect is similar to having a dangling quotation without a reference and without any knowledge from where it came without critically engaging with the material. In Tout va bien the audience never gives into the narrative, for that matter the style does not work to engage, but works to disengage the viewer from the film. However, this description only describes a fleeting moment; the self-reflexivity of the film only lasts for a moment, while Godard actively switches to something new, something we haven’t seen before. It is an experiment in progress that the audience bears witness, rather that a style we are expected to admire or take pride in recognizing.  

1 Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” Film Form: Essays in Film Theory
Ed.Trans. Jay Leyda. San Diego HBJ Book. 1949. PDF File. Pg 4

2 Eisenstein, 6


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