Made in U.S.A. (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)

For the first twenty minutes or so, I had extremely high hopes.  Look, obviously Godard was trying to make some kind of statement criticizing America and consumerism with this semi-parody of hard-boiled noirs, with Anna Karina of all people inhabiting the usual Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade role, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t give a lick about whatever political statement Godard was trying to make, because what I was seeing, just in terms of putting a new spin on an old genre…was funny!  Seeing Anna Karina, cute as a button wearing some of the flashiest, most colorful clothes you can imagine, holding up a gun to a much-shorter shady man in a suit and fedora who enters her apartment, or go investigating the suspicious death of her boyfriend and ask questions using the usual ambiguous and smooth-talking style of a noir anti-hero in a bar towards other suspicious characters and their femmes, or teaming up with suit-wearing, suspicious detectives to solve a mystery…it was funny, and cute!  Like, for instance, when she inexplicably knocks out that short man in her apartment, then meets up with that writer for some reason, and then cut to the writer’s girl, singing and playing guitar in the bathroom –  this is the strange, but only subtly so, stuff that I really liked.  It’s a bizarre take on a typical noir scene as only Godard could think of, but what really sells it is how deadpan Karina remains throughout, just accepting these weird circumstances – that girl in the bathroom, or how she and the men at the bar practically recite poetry in revealing insights about themselves and the overall mystery – just as a Philip Marlowe would, but in a crazy, bizarro Philip Marlowe world, even more bizarro than the brilliant one that Robert Altman concocted for “The Long Goodbye.”  It’s Godard’s world, we just have to accept it.

But fuck if Godard has to ruin it for me, yet again.  Yeah, it’s a parody of film noir, and within a parody of film noir you’re trying to show us how you hate consumerism for good measure.  Fine, show us that, don’t fucking tell us.  Film is a visual medium above all else, and at the outset of “Made in U.S.A.”, Anna Karina’s colorful shirts goofily hidden by a trenchcoat, and mysterious writers and their singing girlfriends, and glances of both suspicion and desire at a bar, show us all we need to know about how Godard is using the tried-and-true noir formula, and turning it upside-down at the same time, and how that alone is critiquing that formula, and American values in general.  So why, then, do those glorious images have to come to a jarring halt so that Anna Karina, through internal monologue, can tell us “Here we are: fiction triumphs over reality.  Already there is blood and mystery.  It’s like being in a Disney film starring Humphrey Bogart.  A film with a political message.”  Well no fucking shit.  Clearly this is Godard trying to be his usual prankster self once again, breaking the fourth wall in using Anna Karina’s voice to spell out the fact that this is film noir on bright, colorful acid, as if we couldn’t figure it out already.  Godard admirers will tell you that narrative-interrupting commentary like this is clever and just one piece of cool satire, but I just think it’s beyond overkill to tell us what the nature of these images are, when the images themselves tell us that perfectly well.  I guess the joke’s on me.

And that audio recording…my god.  At this point in the movie, any hope I had of following the plot was long-gone anyway (this movie’s plot, with its twists and indistinguishable characters, makes “The Big Sleep” look like Little Red Riding Hood in comparison…which I didn’t necessarily mind as long as I could focus on in-the-moment sights and sounds, but eventually too much is just too much, where not even that becomes fun anymore when it is simply impossible to follow along, no matter how cynical Godard is trying to be), but then to stop everything, bring an already-impossible to follow story to a complete halt, so that we can listen to some shmuck on an audio tape espouse leftist propaganda for about ten minutes?  A bright and colorful little piece of satire that was already starting to get mired in lofty philosophies and mindnumbing monologue has now become Jean-Luc Godard’s political Manifesto, I suppose.  Was that tape supposed to be part of the plot or something, some grand conspiracy?  I couldn’t be bothered to figure it out, since I’d tuned out by that point anyway…and when Anna Karina and some dudes in suits that she’s been working with start shooting each other for some reason I couldn’t begin to comprehend why.  I wasn’t surprised, nor could I even muster the energy to be confused…I just couldn’t give a shit, ‘cuz that thing resembling a plot, and lines like “by choosing death rather than a life without meaning, I am gauging my existence against the absolute.  The absolute rule of morality.  The absolute cannot be found anywhere else.  No past guarantees it.  No future can promise it” had lost me a long time ago.  And if an impossible-to-follow story, even by “Big Sleep” standards, and the chief detective/anti-hero espousing that philosophical drivel, is the entire point, in exaggerating similar devices in classic film noir, then obviously I missed the point, but I don’t care…Godard lost me when he decided to tell me what “Made in U.S.A.” was about, rather than show me.  Just goes to show you, then, that the two moments of Godard that I unabashedly love both occurred in “Band of Outsiders” – the note-passing courtship of Arthur and Odile in the English class, and the famous dancing sequence – and both involved nary a spoken word.

I wanted, and tried, to like “Made in U.S.A.”, I really did.  Anna Karina playing noir detective despite the film taking no pains to hide her outlandish outfits and beauty, was a novel idea, as was thrusting her into a world of the utterly bizarre.  But man, when Godard invades images with those grand ideas of his, tries to inundate already-satire-driven images with a book’s worth of philosophical statements and political manifestos, when every setting and shot and outfit and glance at another character and line of dialogue become a messenger this grand statement or that, I tune out.  “Made in U.S.A.” had promise, but you know what the sign of a bad movie is?  When in the final scene, when one character who I’m sure was introduced before but I couldn’t be bothered to remember drones on, and on, and on, about some heady stuff in conversation while driving that no person, real or fictional, even in a parody/satire, should be able to say so off-the-cuff in conversation, I was literally doing what one Tom Servo was doing at the end of that classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman”: screaming at my screen, as vociferously as I could, “END!  END!  ENNNDDD!”


2 comments so far

  1. Ben Booger on

    I don’t care for “Made in U.S.A.,” but I like you even less. Godard’s political sentiments are only proven more accurate today judging by your innane comments. Spoiled, spoiled American brat. Your simple, nihilistic perspective is truly sickening. Maybe one day you’ll all mature…. probably not, though

  2. Simon M. on

    if you must know, I actually agree with most, if not all of Godard’s political sentiments. I just don’t like when a film completely inundates itself with some message, completely halts its momentum, by preaching political beliefs to you as if this were a lecture rather than a fictional film, no matter WHAT those beliefs are.

    But why am I wasting my time justifying myself to you, since you’re so bigoted and prejudiced that all us filthy Americans look and act the same in your eyes. Have a nice day 🙂

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