Masculin-Féminin     J-L Godard

Masculin-Féminin     J-L Godard

Masculin-Féminin     J-L Godard (Fr; 1966) Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya

viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 18 June 2023; ticket: £7

lest we forget

As per Godard it’s not the romancing that counts but the social constructs that define and delimit it’s possibilities. As romance goes the relationship between Paul (a romantic young idealist) and Madelaine (a wannabe popstar) is cool, as in it’s a cool relationship with, as in the words of the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields song, A Fine Romance “…with no kisses…” The kissing being replaced by a detached dialogue that probes sex life expectations and political attitudes.

The relationship is a device for probing the facts of life of the times in the mid twentieth century.

In ‘Alphaville’ Godard’s scripting exhibited a prescience about the way in which computers were to develop. What Godard understood about computers was not just their inevitable transition into machines that would have the capacity to take over and control all aspects of our society; computers would also imprint their algorithmically contrived language upon human consciousness; our own thinking would inevitably start to align itself with machine communication, turning us into proto automatons. We were going to end up ‘brainwashed’, with our minds invaded by the computer virus and be unable to think in any other way. In ‘Masculin-Féminin’ Godard has also seen into the future. His scenario probes another nascent feature of control technology which was also going to transform the way we live and interact: the opinion poll. The opinion pole as the harbinger of the data driven society.

At mid point in the film Paul abandons his interest in politics and gets a job with a polling company. Paul’s job is to gather peoples responses to questions about their personal life sexuality and their buying preferences. Godard sees that the forces starting to operate in the social matrix of the mid’60’s are steadily working against and undermining the political and the communal. The real arguments about the division of power wealth and class inequality are in process of being overwhelmed by the burgeoning imperative for everyone to consume…. more and more and more…and for these patterns of consumption to start to define us.

As the apparatus of capitalism gives consumers the goods they are incited to desire: the car, the TV, the holiday, the clothing, the music, all considerations surrounding how and why and at what cost these things are produced become irrelevant. Everything belongs in the domain of possession. The people are addicted to Coca Cola. But at the same time as this marriage to consumption takes place, something else also happens that marks a change the social psyche: the arrival of the pollsters.

Where once we might have been defined by class and politics, we are now defined by the data that is collected about us. The pollsters back in the 60’s with their questionnaires and clip-boards were the start of a process where over time we have all become agglomerations of our possessions. Of course there is a feed back loop between the objective and subjective, in which our own self identity and the identity of others are increasingly moulded by the data relating to the way we live. We become what we consume, what we watch, the music we listen to. In 1966 Godard was witnessing and documenting what he understood to be the beginning of an atomised fragmented society defined by patterns of individualistic consumption and the end of community. The pollsters were the start of the data driven society that now with the internet and its ‘likes’ cookies, personalised ads, and tracking, has reached a point of satiation and satiety.

In his later films I think Godard understood that ‘1968’ and all that had been a final act desperate of resistance against the overwhelming pressure of the capitalist driven forces of consumption, completely remoulding the social sphere as an apolitical realm. His films following 1968 can be understood as acts of defiance and analysis.

‘Masculin-Féminin’ is not so much a narrative rather a series of clips pinpointing events in the course of ‘a perhaps’ relationship. Intercut between these sections are clips depicting defining images of the times: the shops the billboards the neon signs and brightly lit boulevards of Paris. Intra-cut into the clips are short sharp depictions of the violence witnessed without surprise and ‘coolly’ by the protagonists, almost complete indifference. These violent actions epitomise the savagery of the times spontaneous sudden destructive actions that characterise a psychotic individualised society fed on images of death and wars of cruelty and murder.

The era of Vietnam war: the war that runs through Godard’s films as a reference to the ultimate expression of US Corporate and Military Industrial hegemony and to remind the audience that this war was not something that could be forgotten. However much Europe and the politicians might find it convenient real politique to ignore and forget.   It was a cruel criminal war in which the might of the USA attempted to crush a country which was diametrically opposed to capitalism. It was a cruel and criminal war to which Europe for the most part turned a blind eye. Europe was to happy up to a point to allow its youth a luxury of gestural opposition but for the most part Europe simply wanting to get on and join the big fat party of consumer excess and life style celebration that was the necessary correlate of the murder in Vietnam.

adrin neatrour



Author: Star & Shadow

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