Goodbye to Language
Jean-Luc Godard's latest free-form essay film may be, more than anything else, a documentary of a restless mind.
Q. If you look carefully toward the end of "Armageddon," it appears that the same piece of film was used twice. There is a scene in the master control room on Earth as the explosive charge detonates on the asteroid, showing a jubilant crowd scene. In the right foreground an Air Policeman holds his head with both hands in joy. A few more scenes pass, and it is announced that the asteroid has been destroyed; a reaction shot of the control room is shown and we see in right foreground an Air Policeman holding his head with both hands, etc. I caught this repetition quite by accident. I have seen scenes repeated in films before, usually low-budget action films that flop the negative of a scene so the movement is reversed, but I have not noticed this practice in high-budget pictures. Have you noticed this practice--done to fill time or replace a scene that didn't work, I presume? (Tom Butters, Indianapolis, IN)
A. Very alert work! No, I haven't noticed the practice before. Oddly enough, in the screening I attended, most of the audience members were holding their heads in both hands, although not with joy.
Q. Any comments on Woody Allen's assertion that his film received a bad review because the writer didn't like him? (Alan Podmore, Canoga Park, CA.)
A. Allen told Indie, a film magazine, that Maureen Dowd of the New York Times attacked his film "Deconstructing Harry" because "she doesn't like me." Dowd described the movie as "a tiresome Manhattan whine about a weaselly, overcivilized, undermoralized, terminally psychoanalyzed terminator," adding that Allen's movies are "about nothing except his creepy obsessions." My comments: (1) Yes, I would agree she doesn't like him. (2) Allen has often described himself in more or less the same terms Dowd uses, so she's going to have to do better than that. (3) You'd be surprised how many good films are about their weaselly, overcivilized, undermoralized, terminally psychoanalyzed directors' creepy obsessions.
Q. What happened to "The End?" Most movies now finish with a freeze/fadeout and the credits scroll. Bring back "The End!" (Jim Coughlin, Oak Park, Il.)
A. I read your question and realized it had been years since I'd seen a new film that ended with "The End." I turned for an answer to Richard Neupert, professor of film studies at the University of Georgia and author of The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema , who informs me: "My understanding is that unions and craft guilds got new concessions once the studio days ended, so that all creative personnel would get their names cited (partly because they were all "independent" now rather than studio employees), so by the mid-1960s it became routine to include all the names at the end of the movie. That does not of course mean that the words 'The End' were no longer needed, but partly because of more popular 'theme songs' that run over the credits, 'The End' may have seemed a bit inappropriate. By the early 1960s, the more modern art films made the sort of classical genre endings typical of 'Casablanca' (camera and main characters separate, orchestral reprise, super of words 'The End') look old-fashioned. But the big dividing motive seems to have been the need to include all pertinent names, so now many films fade into the credit sequence. I agree that the sudden appearance of 'The End' is much more satisfying, and even a famous art film like 'The 400 Blows' ended with the French 'Fin' over the final freeze frame."
Q. Last night my husband and I went to see "Gone With the Wind." The film did not fill the entire theater screen. The shape of the projected image was like it was made for a square TV screen rather than the rectangular movie screen. When I asked the manager about it, she said that was the way they made films back in 1939. I say "Bull!" I think we got ripped off. What do you say? (Ellen Bedrosian, Tenafly, N. J.)
A. The theater manager was absolutely correct. Prior to 1954, all movies were made in a ratio of 1 to 1.33, which means the picture was four feet wide for every three feet high. Then wide-screen ratios were introduced, as Hollywood sought ways to compete with television. If "GWTW" had been altered to make it appear to be in widescreen, the picture would have lost as much as 25 percent of its height, leading to a Rhett Butler with no hair and a Scarlett O'Hara with no chin.
Q. I just read Ken Griggs letter about foreign accents in movies, in your Answer Man column. He should go see "Ever After." The setting is France, the names are French, the characters are French, most of the actors are American, yet the characters speak British English. Go figure. I would argue that the actors should not have had any accents at all. Why do directors feel the need to stick in accents when they clearly do not belong? One of my pet peeves has always been movies that are set in another country, where all the characters are from that country, and would clearly be speaking to one another in their own language. Yet the movie always shows the characters speaking accented English. If we are to assume that we are being given a glimpse into the characters' world, but, for the sake of the English-speaking audience, everything is portrayed in English, there should be no accent. I mean, really, when two Russians speak to each other in Russian, do they think, "My god, what a thick accent I have!" (JoAnne Vicente, Toronto, Ontario)
A. Only if they're from Tashkent.
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