Sunday, May 2, 2010

Review: Made in USA (1966)

This movie has one really good scene, and the rest of the film is an incomprehensible mess. The one good scene is almost a parody of the rest of the film - it is a bunch of people standing around in a bar, talking gibberish. The difference between that scene and the rest of the film is that in that one scene, none of the characters are taking the gibberish they are spouting seriously - they are saying these bizarre and meaningless sentences as jokes. The rest of the film, the characters actually mean the bizarre and meaningless things they spout. They spend almost the entire rest of the film talking about either the plot or Jean-Luc Godard's political beliefs, neither of which make anything resembling any kind of sense. The incomprehensibility of the film is a deliberate and self conscious homage to Howard Hawk's brilliant The Big Sleep, which is another film that refuses to make sense. The difference, though, is that in The Big Sleep it doesn't matter that you have no idea what is going on, because the characters and individual situations are so entertaining in and of themselves, that you almost forget about the plot. In Made in USA you are never allowed to forget about the plot, because the plot is all the characters ever talk about. There aren't weird and delightful scenes (like Bogart seducing the bookshop girl, or the rapid-fire dialogue between Bogie and Bacall) to entertain us. There is just plot. Acres and acres of meaningless plot.

And yet... you aren't really bored while watching this film. You become baffled, confused, a little bit annoyed, but you never quite become bored. You teeter on the edge sometimes, but Godard manages to have just enough meaningless activity, just enough baffling jump cuts or pointless interstitials or irrelevant repeating that you never quite become bored. This is in contrast to some of his other films, like Alphaville, which is just as annoying and confusing as Made in USA, but so, so, so much more boring. Watching Alphaville is like watching grass grow. No, that's not right. Watching Alphaville is like watching a man walk up and down stairs, while reciting some awful sci-fi fan-fic that he wrote stream of conscious. For two fucking hours.

One of the main differences between the two films, and why Made in USA is so much better than Alphaville, is the cinematography. Alphaville, as well as being incomprehensible and entirely eventless, is really fucking ugly. The black and white cinematography is so fucking dreary and uninspired. And this wouldn't have mattered if the film was better, a good film can carry boring cinematography, but boring cinematography on an already mind-numbingly boring fucking film just makes everything so much worse. Made in USA on the other hand is almost ludicrously colourful. It looks brilliant - like some sort of a pop-art bubble gum wrapper. The vividness of the primary colours means that, when the film itself is happening, making no sense and refusing to allow you to care about anything that is occurring, you can just be sitting there, bathed in the glory of the colour palette. The excellent use of colours is the one saving grace of this otherwise kind-of-crummy film.

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