Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Altman and Godard

We watched McCabe and Mrs. Miller tonight, another futile attempt to discover what it is that people like about Robert Altman's films. It's certainly not his characters, who though they may be clever are never very likeable. His use of ensemble casts makes the films feel centerless, an effect exacerbated by his persistent and annoying use of simultaneous dialogue -- characters constantly talking all at once -- two, three, four at a time -- making it impossible to catch half of what is being said. While there is a strong and personal visual aesthetic to his direction, I often feel that Altman's misanthropy extends beyond his characters and out to his audience. I don't like feeling hated by an entertainer, or an artist, or anyone for that matter.

While I have learned to like and even love several of Godard's films (all from the sixties -- the rest is garbage, IMHO), I often have a similar feeling about him: he seems to derive more pleasure from trying his audience's patience than he does from engaging and entertaining them. While films like Masculin Feminin, Une Femme Est Une Femme, Bande à part, and Pierrot le Fou expanded my horizons and brought great pleasure, films like Weekend, Alphaville, Le Mepris & Les Carabiniers made me want to set my hair on fire -- and then find Godard and set his hair on fire.

That said, if I had to choose, I'd choose Godard, who at least has a sense of humor. More importantly, I don't think he's a misanthropist the way Altman is. Altman's assaults on his audience are born from a dark, ugly view of human beings, while Godard's are like pricks from a playful gadfly.

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