Sunday, August 9, 2009

(Vainly) In Search of an American Godard

Had I not mentioned Godard a few weeks back in this blog, I would have ignored the comments of A. O. Scott, the chief film critic of the New York Times, about John Hughes being “our Godard”. But I had, and there he was, writing a posthumous review about a director that he said was the “auteur of teenage angst”.
Especially for those of us born between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Bicentennial, the phrase “a John Hughes movie” will instantly conjure a range of images, including the smooth, pale faces of a bevy of young actors.

But I don’t think I’m alone among my cohort in the belief that John Hughes was our Godard, the filmmaker who crystallized our attitudes and anxieties with just the right blend of teasing and sympathy. Mr. Godard described “Masculin FĂ©minin,” his 1966 vehicle for Jean-Pierre Leaud and Ms. Karina, as a portrait of “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Ringwald, in “Pretty in Pink,” were corresponding icons for the children of Ronald Reagan and New Coke.
Note the pretentious reference to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It is meant to give the discussion a political bent. Scott could have easily said “Kennedy assassination” or the mid 1960s; a few years would have made no difference in a time line that was intended to establish a generational reference point. But he says “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” that, for those who know, stands for government duplicity – an outright lie in order to escalate a war.

Why is he saying that?

Because Godard is political. But not one in 10,000 adults in the U.S. who came of age during the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution have heard of it or know what it signified. The proof is Scott’s own writing. Look, for example, at his analogy, meeting Godard’s witty, immediately-accessible contrast of Marx and Coca-Cola with a meaningless and nonsensical contrast between Ronal Reagan and New Coke. The man knows nothing about Godard or his work.

John Hughes was the director of this generation. Breakfast Club, his magnum opus, is a sophomoric and pretentious movie about mall rats – all white, of course – whining about their “angst”.

So, why mention Godard at all? Why not just compare Hughes to say, Spielberg – John Hughes was the auteur of teenage angst the way Spielberg is the auteur of extraterrestrial angst.

The answer is that the lack of a U.S. Godard is embarrassing. Scott invokes Godard’s name in the same spirit that the New York Times writes about “New York intellectuals” and finance professors speak of Modern Finance Theory. These are things that one wishes existed because their absence is embarrassing.

But they do not exist. American Godard, New York intellectuals, Modern Finance Theory – where they ought to be, there is a big hole.

I cannot do too much about the other holes. But I intend to plug the one about finance theory.

Meanwhile, let me know if you are looking for a good movie. I fancy that I know a thing or two about movies.