Lou Reed once remarked that anyone who got to side four of his double album Metal Machine Music was “dumber than I am.” The album was later covered in its entirety by the Zeitkratzer orchestra. Pitchfork thought their version of it was actually pretty good.
As a pioneer in experimenting with noise and feedback in music way before it was cool, Reed challenged his audience to accept his aural assault upon them as ‘rock and roll’, or art. But his ‘challenge’ was not the ‘challenge’ a teacher poses a reluctant pupil, but rather a challenge made with an active contempt for all those not up to it, and perhaps also all those pretentious enough to claim that they are.
Like Reed, Godard, working in his chosen medium, contemptuously challenges his audience to accept his visual assault upon them as film. The 84-year-old French director has been doing so for over 60 years now, and amazingly, still pushes harder and harder to ‘break’ his audience with each new film.
Goodbye To Language is differentiated from other recent Godard films (all of which seem to have only a passing, momentary interest with form, story, or even characters) by its use of 3D to add (literally) another dimension to fucking with the audience. Disorienting jump cuts, stuttered use of music that shifts from speaker to speaker – old hat. In our present 3D future, Godard can actually inflict discomfort bordering on pain upon your eyes, like when he has one eye remain on one image while the other eye’s image drifts somewhere else, both conflicting with each other in your visual field vying for attention.
Of course, Goodbye To Language is more than just Godard taking pleasure in subjecting his audience to newfound forms of visual torture made possible with the use of 3D cameras. It is that – but it’s also a Godard film, filled with beautiful imagery and (thankfully and expectedly respectable) disembodied poetry. It requires a viewer to be patient and ‘up to the challenge’ and is rewarding in its own classically Godard-ian way.
There are times though, when he is very distinctly daring the viewer to call it quits. He’ll demonstrate how beautifully 3D can capture the contours of a naked woman’s form, as though you’d never realized how much you were missing out with simple two dimensional images of naked women, only to place this wonderful sight in front of a man shitting. Noisily. And why did Godard choose to film most of the film with a handheld camera waved around as if by a four year old trying out his iPhone camera’s recording feature? Was he going for an amateur feel or is this another aspect of his sadism, punctuated repeatedly by the most jarring segments of Beethoven’s 7th symphony?
Watching Goodbye To Language, you may ask yourself if this is really any good. If a first-year film student made this, would anyone care? Would it win prizes at Cannes too? Did Godard perhaps make this movie thinking, like Reed, that anyone who makes it to the end is dumber than him? Probably not, since there is clearly a firm hand behind the beauty of the film and its deceptively rhythmic flow, questionable camera work or not. Maybe like Metal Machine Music it is Godard just fucking with his audience, but it is also, at the same time, the kind of fuckery that is beautiful enough to be covered by an orchestra 30 years later.