Gareth Porter – Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception

Link to an article by investigative historian Gareth Porter:

“Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception: Pushing LBJ Into War”

It is interesting to consider Porter’s perspectives on this in light of the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the “bureaucratic field”.  That is, Porter does not view the “state” as a monolithic entity, but a field established by and through its agents (and groups of agents) struggling amongst each other for authority.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

Before Today

Ariel Pink’s Haunted GraffitiBefore Today 4AD CAD3X15CD (2010)

A growing and widespread trend amongst music of the early 21st Century is a tendency to look back at earlier eras, and to the innocence of youth.  At its most grating and shallow, this is represented by many forms of indie “twee” pop.  At its most incisive and nuanced, representatives of the freak folk movement stand out, like early Devendra Banhart and, more significantly, Joanna Newsom.  New strains of “hypnagogic pop” also fit the bill.  Ariel Pink fits in that continuum too.  His music, lo-fi pop he credits to the R. Stevie Moore school, is like a filtered and re-cast version of pop music of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  For Pink, the “innocence of youth” is about remaining a sort of juvenile delinquent of the highest order, and playing and subverting music that resembles what was popular when he was a child.  Slavoj Žižek, discussing the film The Village, mentions how the story portrays a “desire to recreate a closed universe of authenticity in which innocence is protected from the coercive force of modernity . . . .”  That also could describe the most devolved and conservative visions in music emphasized incessantly by indie twee, while Pink’s motivation is more of an attempt to pour acid on innocent history and corrode it sufficiently to create his own mutant version.  The boldest and most impressive aspect of what Pink does is that his musical sources tend to be the most passé kinds of AM radio fare that would normally provoke a sneer from most listeners, or at least any that consider themselves “hip”.  The earliest Haunted Graffiti albums were solo affairs, recorded on primitive equipment in Pink’s home, complete with human beatbox “percussion”.  Now Pink has a band behind him.  They are the right band.  Without backing away from the warm and fuzzy sound of a 4th generation tape dub, his group adds precision to the melodies that is a major asset.  What this music represents though is a reboot of pop of the preceding decades.  It is as if to say, “it failed before, but this time it might work!”  Music like this says a lot about society, and how on some level there is recognition that we have to go back and undo the mistakes of history while salvaging its successes.

Beck – Morning Phase

Morning Phase

BeckMorning Phase Capitol B001983802 (2014)

Beck returns to mellow indie-rock with Morning Phase.  It is territory he’s strode before.  But it also represents Beck the conformist, and the guy who seems to be a little long in the tooth for the rock and roll game.  Still, he’s also somewhat self-consciously taking on that role.

Once upon a time, fifteen years or so earlier, Beck worked in post-modern pastiche.  His music back then didn’t settle into one genre.  It drew from many.  It juxtaposed elements of each.  At a most elemental level, it presented a unique perspective on how to subjectivize the American experience of the 1990s.  It valued the diversity of expression available, and the permissiveness of access to those different forms.  It was the beginning of the Internet era, when communications were seeing a unprecedented (if, in hindsight, possibly brief) period of democratization, at least down through the middle class.  In music this meant that obscurantist knowledge was becoming less constrained into cliques organized around particular music shops, (maga)zines, concert venues, and so forth.  Cultural acuity began to require a faculty of recombining the large-scale raw elements of form.  This is what mattered at a time when information about music, and music itself (via on-line file-sharing services like Napster, etc.), was becoming more widely available.  There was more stuff out there, more readily available, than most people had historically been able to grasp.  And the music industry had just offered one of its more open-minded policies to mildly subversive material that would appeal to upper middle-class audiences (not just to lower middle and working class audiences).  There was a lot of music out there to choose from.  It mattered to audiences how a person would make sense of it all.  Enter Beck.  He took all these things floating around and pulled them together in a way that was fun, ironically mocking, and inclusive.  He pulled in elements of genres, like hip-hop, in which he possessed no inherent credibility.  He didn’t have the sort of “street cred” that seemed like a entry requirement for the “gangsta rap” that had dominated the hip-hop genre in the early part of the decade.  But he, and his producers, demonstrated that enough wit and some catchy hooks could totally obviate the need for entry credentials.

There was an audience out there who also liked a wide variety of types of music, and perhaps were demonstrating a possession of knowledge of such musics (“cultural capital”) by gravitating toward music that embodied diverse tastes.  Wrapped up in all this, still, was a certain irreverence.  There was no loyalty to any particular type or types music.  But this irreverence crafted another kind of loyalty within the specific audience that could understand a wide variety forms. Listeners toiling away at three jobs to make ends meet maybe did not have the time to absorb and contextualize multiple contemporary musical genres, not to mention have meaningful access to them.  Anyway, this positioned Beck’s relation to “genre” as a means of classifying music as something that principally depended on the audience’s sociological makeup, not the purely technical aspects of the sound in his music.

In the next decade, Beck turned to more discrete efforts in particular genres.  He gravitated toward themes like relationships, and his earlier focus on form sort of evaporated.  His music remained popular.  He was sort of a reliable figure, leaning on slightly different approaches, from moody, low key and nearly acoustic music, to brash guitar-rock with tinges of hip-hop and electronics.  Of course all of the kinds of music he was pursuing had precedents.  In fact it could almost be said that he was simply amplifying the dominant trends in the sort of rock that appealed to college-educated, white audiences — ones that always seems to have disposable income for music.  A clear pattern can be found in which he kind of followed more or less the same audience as it grew older and settled into more of a routine, which did not admit so much time for exploration of new and different musical genres.  This was reflected in Beck’s music more frequently being called “mature” than “juvenile”.

If Beck’s career can be compared to that of a figure from the world of cinema, François Truffaut would be as good a reference point as any.  Truffaut began as a film critic, but when he transitioned to the role a of director his earliest films exploded with personal idiosyncrasies made the thematic focal point.  But over time Truffaut chose commercial and financial well-being over artistic innovation.  Personal idiosyncrasies evaporated, and he made “films of quality” of the sort he once questioned as a film critic.  There was a shift from modernism to classicism.  Is this what has become of Beck?  The albums Beck now makes fit squarely into established genres.  He doesn’t really offer any particularly new ways of perceiving and subjectivizing worldly experience.  He instead has focused on craft and technique within well-defined genre boundaries.  He can do melancholy ballads.  He can handle three-chord guitar rock with distortion pedals.  If listeners choose to compare Beck’s music to that of other artists, there is nothing in the substantive content that can’t be readily found elsewhere.  But in terms of the packaging, so to speak, fairly little other recorded rock music has a more polished a delivery.  This stuff is well-built.  Not a note seems out of place.  He has access to absolutely the finest recording studios and supporting staff, and he makes ample use of those resources.  And also, there isn’t any filler material padding out the run-time of the albums.  Every song is finely honed, and effort went into each of them.

Beck can still write a decent song.  He also is not a bad singer.  But his attentions here are are on using established methods in a richer, more intricate web that relies less on discrete riffs and hooks than on slowly building modulations that evoke “evolution” of the music.  “Blue Moon” is an example of how effectively he can wield these sorts of techniques.  There are layered vocals set against a tapestry of acoustic guitar and distant sounding drums, with punctuation provided by piano.  The rhythm becomes more insistent.  Backing vocals grow more urgent while the drums sound more hurried.  The lyrics speak of a fear of abandonment and loneliness.  Really, they speak of concern for being left behind and forgotten.  These are relevant fears for an artist who has already achieved as much as can be expected as an entertainer, and is always at risk of becoming a forgotten anachronism.  Yet the music is so effusively smooth that it sort of drifts by rather than imposing itself.  It is almost a dare precisely to forget it.  That sort of seems to be the point.  Beck is playing the part of the fading middle-aged rocker, coming to terms with middle age.

On songs like “Wave” there is orchestral treatment, with rising and falling dramatic pulses (reminiscent of the only internationally known Icelandic pop singer). A moody darkness dominates.  “Don’t Let It Go” opens with deliberate acoustic guitar picking, emphasizing a rhythm that Beck’s vocals later emphasize.  A piano is added, followed by drums.  These are all well-established approaches for building moods in pop music.  So, maybe Beck is still combining different types of music?  There are bits and pieces of this music that resembles everything from 1970s FM radio pop rock to more contemporary “indie” rock.  This is more like a scavenger hunt.  It is like a challenge to find the points of reference, at once meant to be reassuring by making the referents very familiar to Beck’s core audience but also stretching to cover a wide assortment of middle-class mainstream pop.  This is something of a trend in indie rock of late, with a set of “musical anthropologists” of sorts trying to reclaim the passe pop music of prior generations.  Unfortunately, there is a self-congratulatory aspect to such devices in Beck’s hands, particularly when he draws from material that his audience probably already likes rather than challenging them to accept music they are socially expected to despise.

Beck is always ready to try to put a finger on what audiences want.  It almost seems like he’s reading up on market research, and delivering just what commercial rock needs in any given year — much like a certain Irish rock band that won’t be named.  But Morning Phase is ultimately a mediocre album because it doesn’t offer the realization of any new desires.  It is an attempt to capitalize on existing desire.  The calculated nature makes it inhibited.  No, there is nothing wrong with this music, exactly.  But it is no more than an attempt to fulfill the pre-existing expectations of an established audience.  No amount of coloration with gongs, mandolin, guitar flange pedals, pedal steel guitar, or airy vocals on the usual assortment of interpersonal relationship quandaries and weighty personal feelings can make it anything other than a palliative, an assurance to the audience that everything is as it should be.  The audience is left right where it began, mildly distracted by an unbroken chain of emotional distractions that just loop onto themselves across a host of musical genres.  If you are in the right demographic, the loop sounds vaguely like Beck, inasmuch as it sounds like anything distinct at all.

Pavement – Brighten the Corners

Brighten the Corners

PavementBrighten the Corners Matador OLE 197-2 (1997)

Pavement might well be THE rock band of the 1990s.  They skew a bit toward the white middle class demographic, though Gold Sounds might suggest there is more to that story.  As a reviewer on RateYourMusic astutely noted (with respect to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain), Pavement studied up on everything that was good about 80s (underground/college) rock and updated it.  Brighten the Corners, while unfairly maligned by some, belongs near the top of the heap of the group’s recordings.  Wowee Zowee was trying too hard to have an “eclectic” sound.  Here, it all comes more naturally, and the band seems to be doing more of what they like.  Comparisons to Television‘s debut are apt, as Pavement really looks further back than just the 80s.  The ponderous but astute lyrics from Malkmus just top this one off with whipped cream and a cherry.

Paul Robeson – Robeson


Paul RobesonRobeson Verve MG V-4044 (1960)

You can’t find an American better than Paul Robeson.  There are a lot of things life can throw at a person.  You would have to say that Robeson encountered a good many of them and, in the face of those challenges, made the right choices no matter the burden of doing so (at least in his public life).  Best known for his definitive performance of “Ol’ Man River” from the musical Show Boat, Robeson’s staggering list of lifetime achievements included being an all-American athlete, attorney, star of stage, screen and recordings, and internationally recognized civil rights activist.  He took a principled stand in favor of the USSR, and as a result was harassed and persecuted over a period of decades by the U.S. government (the same government that tacitly permitted lynchings into the 1960s [with President Truman refusing Robeson’s challenge to formally ban lynchings by law] and to this day has a national holiday honoring the genocidal plunderer Christopher Columbus, the last man to discover the “new world”).

Robeson (Verve) was recorded August 22, 1960 in London.  It was during a time when Roberson’s health was starting to deteriorate.  His passport was revoked and he was denied international travel from 1950-58.  But after the U.S. State Department reinstated his passport — and then only when forced to by the U.S. Supreme Court after the case Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116 (1958), a decision written by Robeson’s law school classmate William O. Douglas — Robeson resumed travel and revived his international performing career.  That allowed him to make these recordings abroad.  For his age, and given his health problems, his bass-baritone voice was still commanding.  Though it had lowered somewhat, the vibrato a little shakier at times.  While he sometimes performed “spirituals” (an early term for afro-american gospel music), this album features non-religious “pop” repertoire with orchestral backing.  It was a return to pop for Robeson, who focused more on folk and activist material in the 1950s.  Here, his voice is out front and the theatrically-leaning orchestral backing tastefully restrained.  If ever a musical discussion turns to the question of the merits of lighter fare, turn to Robeson for proof that a great singer can turn any material into something meaningful and lasting.  Not only that, if in the final analysis the history of the 20th Century mostly bore out Hannah Arendt‘s dictum about “the banality of evil,” then Paul Robeson’s provides us with a crucial look at what it will take in the 21st Century to find the antidote.

Elvis – Moody Blue

Moody Blue

ElvisMoody Blue RCA AFL1 2428 (1977)

When searching for an allegory for Elvis’ later career, it’s tempting to think of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with his wings of feathers and wax and then plummeted into the sea.  Although that Greek myth is often seen as a tale of hubris, there was no hubris whatsoever in Elvis’ iconic early 1970s live revue.  That was the Elvis who invented the big Vegas rock show, and who put on show after show to audiences of 2,000 or more, often twice a night.  Some claim that when he was performing a full 50% of visitors to Las Vegas went to an Elvis show on their trip!  It takes only a cursory perusal through Elvis’ early 1970s live albums to find that this was a man who could deliver huge songs with an amazing level of emotional commitment.  This wasn’t someone who thought himself the king of rock, this man was the king of rock.  So instead of Icarus, the better analogy is that of John Henry the legendary steel-driving man (a real person!) who outdid a railroad spike-driving machine, but at the cost of his life.  It’s the story of the human toll of modern existence.  The only way Elvis could do what he did as long as he did was with a steady supply of drugs.  He couldn’t stay ahead of the drugs forever though.  Inevitably, and invariably, those who surpass ordinary human limits fall.  So it’s more a question of sacrifice.  Elvis did too much.  But Elvis was an American icon precisely because rash excess seems like a national vice, and also because he did these things for us — the audience.

It is on Elvis’ descent, actually just before his death, that Moody Blue arrived.  It is a patchwork of live recordings from as far back as 1974 (the previously-released “Let Me Be There” from Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis) plus some “studio” recordings from the Jungle Room of his Graceland mansion (from some of the same sessions as From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee).  This album is flawed, surely.  Seeing the inclusion of a track from a previous album reveals how little new material was available.  And “Little Darlin'” is every bit the moldy oldie it appears.  Elvis’ voice seems to lumber, moving in one direction and sticking with it.  But by and large there is a weepy country vibe here that suits Elvis’ dark and tragic approach to what are mostly sad heartache tunes.  This is a soundtrack to a lonely night crying into your beer.  It’s far from Elvis’ best.  Yet it might be the best he had to offer this late in his life.

Lexus Drivers

Something I realized long ago is that when walking or riding my bike around town, there is a very strong correlation between drivers who carelessly–or knowingly–endanger my life through reckless driving and those driving luxury vehicles like Lexus and BMW luxury sedans and fancy sport utility vehicles.  That is not to say that those are the only reckless drivers on the road.  I also noticed a strong correlation between aggressively reckless driving and driving extremely low-cost dilapidated cars or having carloads of many young men in any type of vehicle.  What always seems to stand out the most, though, were the luxury cars that were routinely driven in a way that put my life in danger only to save a fraction of a second travel time for the driver.  It gave the impression that my life was not worth the seconds saved by the driver.

As it turns out, Paul Piff, a social psychology researcher at the University of California Berkeley, has recently studied this very issue.  Not surprisingly, his data backs up what was already quite clear.  The affluent tend to have a feeling of entitlement over others.  They do feel that they are better and more worthy than others, particularly when driving.

“The Age of Entitlement: How Wealth Breeds Narcissism”

“The Money-Empathy Gap: New Research Suggests That More Money Makes People Act Less Human. Or at Least Less Humane.”

“Does Money Make You Mean”

The connection here is pretty clear if you view “money” as a unit of measure of “power” (arising from a milieu of credit and moral debts), and then consider the age-old saying often attributed to Lord Acton, “power corrupts.”  That ties this, by only an slight degree of separation, to psychology research like Philip Zimbardo’s “Standford Prison Experiement” (see also Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil).

There is also the question of so-called “Lexus lanes” that allow drivers to pay a premium for access to special, uncongested traffic lanes.  These more or less reinforce feelings of entitlement.  But that’s also a whole other issue.

It is good to see research like this being done.  It furthers efforts like The Spirit Level that show how inequality produces worse outcomes for everyone.

Two Biographies of Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema’s Theoretical Analyst

Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy    Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

Colin MacCabe, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 2004)

Richard Brody, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (Metropolitan Books 2008)

Two biographers have written substantial books on filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard.  Despite a common focus on the same biographical subject, and a shared belief that Godard is one of the most important filmmakers of his time or maybe ever, the two writers take markedly different approaches with equally different levels of success.

Godard, of course, was a Swiss-French filmmaker who transitioned from a circle of post World War II cinephiles to a leading director in the French nouvelle vague [new wave] movement in the late 1950s.  His cinematic style was revolutionary.  His ideas about the nature of cinema were inscribed into his works.  He broke all the rules of cinema, from editing to framing, in a kind of ongoing scientific analysis of the form itself that restated classic cinema with streaks of modernism.  Like many of his nouvelle vague compatriots he worked largely with low budgets, to preserve a degree of artistic freedom from producers.  He shot mostly on location and with scripts often devised during shooting.  After a series of critically lauded films through the mid-1960s, many starring his first wife Anna Karina and filmed by cameraman Raoul Coutard, Godard entered a militant period in which he rejected commercial cinema.  He made collaborative films with French Maoists, then turned to television and video projects in the mid 1970s.  He “returned” to commercial film in the late 1970s, and has remained a critically lauded outsider as he became an octogenarian.  His audiences had dwindled.  Yet he continued to provoke and expand the possibilities of his chosen medium with new projects.  Among his notable later works was a massive and sui generis video project on the history of cinema and the history of the 20th Century released in the late 1990s.  An irascible and sometimes misunderstood person, the recent biographies offer impossibly different accounts of the man behind the films.  Only one ultimately proves reliable though.

MacCabe brings a comprehensive classical education to bear on Godard’s work.  He places Godard in a deep fabric of artistic and political endeavors stretching back centuries.  Most fundamentally he provides an explicit analysis of the ideologies Godard adopted in his work, and relates them to his influences and the times and places in which he lived.  Personal details are provided only to an extent minimally necessary for an understanding of Godard’s attitudes and ideals.  Though perhaps a few possibly unflattering details are omitted.  MacCabe also proves an eloquent writer. Take his statement on the motivations of directors like the young Godard:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that the history of the cinema is the history of a plot by shy unprepossessing and sex-obsessed men to surround themselves with heartrendingly beautiful women.” (p. 123)

MacCabe elucidates the way Godard the film critic established the framework of his cinematic vision, one that is fundamentally an analysis of the nature of cinema.  He highlights Godard’s writing while at the journal Cahiers du Cinema that, in hindsight, posits the truth of Godard’s personality (TiNe) and worldview (gauchiste).  Discussing one such article, MacCabe probe’s Godard’s conception of cinema in relation to reality:

“What Godard emphasizes — a point that [André] Bazin makes in his almost exactly contemporaneous article on Stalin — is that the cinema is not just a representation of reality, but becomes part of the reality itself.” (p. 72)

This point tends to attract people like Godard.  It is a restatement of a point elaborated at length by Alfred Korzybski, who formulated the issue thusly:

“The map is not the territory; the map doesn’t cover all of the territory; and the map is self-reflexive (it becomes part of the territory).” Science and Sanity (1933)

Portions of the book on Godard’s formative experiences establishing new grounds for film criticism with staff of the journal Cahiers du Cinema and his engagement with Henri Langlois’s famous contextual juxtapositions through screenings by the film archive Cinémathèque Française simply crackle with energy.  One feels Godard’s excitement.  But this reveals also the concepts that his cohorts imparted to him and his work.  Crucial is a new view of authorship in cinema, which separated Godard not only from other filmmakers and critics but also made a unique contribution by cinema to the arts as a whole.  In it, the audience’s perspective steps forward.

“One locates one’s author not by ignoring the specificity of his artistic medium, but by emphasizing it. . . . Cahiers’s author theory is the only theory of the author which is formulated from the point of view of the audience, and indeed explicitly formulated as a method to move from the position of the audience to that of the artist.” (p. 75)

This concept returns later in the book, transitioning to the legal and political sphere where audience rights are not recognized.

“Godard precisely understands copyright as a crucial artistic and political issue.  Most legal discussions turn around differences between the French and the Anglo-Saxon systems, with the French being held to favour the author, while the Anglo-Saxon favours the owner of the copyright.  What differences there are pale into insignificance beside the fact that neither system allows the audience any rights whatsoever.” (p. 301)

Brody, writing with MacCabe’s book already published, focuses on factual detail.  While Brody did interview Godard (* read on), most of the contents of Everything Is Cinema come from archival research and a few new interviews, mostly of those who lived and worked around Godard.  His book therefore functions most effectively in cataloging existing materials on Godard, organized chronologically around Godard’s various professional projects.  There are chapters addressing each of Godard’s films.  Readers can locate relevant sections in relation to particular works, as they are viewed, and review the citations to find relevant materials.  This is quite unlike MacCabe’s approach, which unabashedly favors certain films with longer, more in-depth treatments, and mentions others only in passing.  Footnotes are minimal.  Another thing that Brody does is draw out (and embellish?) the more lurid details of Godard’s personal life, which MacCabe largely passes over.  There is something of a prudish tabloid quality to Brody’s treatment that MacCabe explicitly tried to avoid.  And Brody’s tone is like much other writing in The New Yorker magazine (where he is a film critic and editor), burdened with the same arrogant, self-satisfied, self-important conservatism masquerading as mildly left-of-center liberalism that is taken entirely for granted.

Brody’s presentation tries to extrapolate the larger meaning of Godard’s work from very selective factual detail of Godard’s private life.  In this way, Brody attempts to remove Godard’s own perspective from the analysis of Godard’s work.  MacCabe, in complete contrast, tends to see Godard’s private life as offering little directly useful information about his professional work (with a few notable exceptions for his pre-professional youth, at a high level, and certain later incidents where his public and private life merge), and instead directly engages the public side of Godard’s work on its own. To the extent that Brody draws conclusions, he draws them from the catalogued facts as filtered through his own ideological position.  He seems to make his case by drawing a conclusion first, picking only the facts that support that conclusion, and then drawing a “connection” from that subset of facts to the predetermined conclusions.  The reasons he draws his initial conclusions are not probed in any meaningful way.  Brody’s approach is overarchingly to try to associate Godard with disfavored groups.  Critic Adrian Martin wrote that Brody seems to have an axe to grind, and his research focuses only on supporting certain accusations (namely, alleged anti-semitism and misogyny) but not testing them against potentially contradictory facts (or recognizing a lack of factual support).  This is the central basis for the (many) claims by critics that Brody tries to smear Godard.

On the substantive analysis of Godard’s work, many have complained that Brody overextends himself in viewing all of Godard’s work as an expression of autobiographical fiction.  A damning review by Bill Crohn dismisses Brody’s biography as “cultural journalism”, and cites a New York Times letter to the editor that castigates Brody’s “ideological simplifications and biographical reductivism”.  Crohn also details a host of factual errors and blatant factual distortions, along the lines of Martin’s critique.  But the complaint about reductionism is at the heart of the matter.  Brody returns endlessly to his thesis that Godard’s films should be viewed as strictly autobiographical:

King Lear gathers in one film all of Godard’s preoccupations from this period, and does so in an extremely original, albeit elusive, form.  It . . . was centered on Godard’s self-mythologizing in and through cinema and his recuperation and redefinition of the grand tradition of art by way of the cinema.  As such, King Lear is something of a personal manifesto . . . .”  (p. 491-92)

This very much recalls the work of lesser biographers, like Terry Teachout with Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (2009), which can be viewed as writing a biography as a book-length argument that jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s anachronistic later recordings like “Hello, Dolly!” are important, or Joseph Dofman’s Thorstein Veblen and His America (1934), which has been, somewhat belatedly, criticized for projecting the biographer’s own insecurities onto his biographical subject by extrapolating from dubiously selected facts from Veblen’s private personal life.  No one will doubt that there is an autobiographical element to Godard’s work.  Yet Brody’s one-dimensional, reductionist approach takes it as just about the only element that matters.  It seems like an excuse to justify Brody’s own taste amongst Godard’s works — a bit like Teachout with Armstrong, he seems to want to build up a reason why his personal favorite works are “really” Godard at his best.  Brody is entitled to his opinions, but opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.  Brody’s views fizzle on their own.  Alongside other views, the self-interested moralizing of Everything Is Cinema becomes much more clear.  The claims of anti-semitism are one such area.  Brody seems to have a difficult time separating anti-zionism (which is not anti-semitic) from anti-semitism.  This is Brody’s failing, not Godard’s (who has explicitly drawn this distinction).  People with personalities like Godard love to mock those they consider intellectual inferiors by forcing them to read between the lines with veiled insults.  To that end, when Brody visited Godard in Europe to interview him, Godard snubbed him, and sarcastically mocked his poor interviewing skills.  Reviewer Bill Crohn went so far as to say that Brody’s mean-spirited and distorted bio may have been framed as revenge against Godard for that incident.

MacCabe instead tries to convey Godard’s ideological position, and to contextualize it, and through that filter restricts the raw volume of historical facts presented.  There is never any feeling that more facts would alter MacCabe’s conclusions, because his perspective aligns with the basic course of Godard’s work and career.  This is what is most strikingly different in Brody’s account as compared to MacCabe’s.  Brody does not engage his own ideology explicitly.  In his relentless provision of “facts”, usually relating to the private sphere of his subject, he rarely if ever explains the nature of his own frame of reference.  In attempting to adopt a neutral and “objective” journalistic stance, he makes a play to impose his subjective position on the reader through an emphasis on lurid gossip of doubtful reliability.  This does not sit well.

MacCabe is prone to sweeping statements to elaborate ideological positions, conflicts, and milestones, in cinema and other arts.  For instance, his take on modernism as an element in Godard’s work and a factor that shapes the disposition of Godard and his place within the fabric of the artistic world, provides a unquestionably succinct summary:

“Modernism is most familiarly known as the turning of the focus on to the form and medium of art itself.  *** The paradox of modernism is thus that it offers a totally democratic view of art — the determination to turn every aspect of both world and self into matter for art — in forms which require a level of attention and commitment which limits the audience to a mere handful.”  (pp. 278-79).

But statements like these are explicit in MacCabe’s writing.  And they dazzle and delight with their wit and cutting insight.  He presents them in the context of ongoing debates.  The reader can agree or disagree, complete with some sense of where to look for contrasting viewpoints.

MacCabe is direct in stating that he is an unabashed Godard partisan.  He writes in the first person to explain his favorite films and to recount periodic interactions with Godard.  He thinks Godard’s best works are Passion (1982), Le Mépris [Contempt] (1963) and Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998), with a sentimental attachment to Made in U.S.A. (1966).  Brody states that he thinks Godard is among the best film directors, but clearly despises the man himself and spends most of his biography dredging up (if not fabricating outright) tabloid “dirt”.  He favors King Lear (1987) (having identified it as the very best in his list of the ten greatest films ever, while MacCabe says it fails to integrate some excellent constituent parts) and Eloge de l’amour [In Praise of Love] (2001) (which he rates as the best film of its decade).  Notice how MacCabe separates out his own views and sentimental attachments from an independent context of critical significance, while Brody posits that his personal views are what defines critical importance?  This is why MacCabe’s writing is superior.  In all, Brody’s book may serve as a useful chronological bibliography, but as an overview of Godard’s career it is unreliable and biased.  MacCabe has offered a very impressive biography, one that captures Godard’s life and work as well as any might.  Skip Brody’s tedious tome (I couldn’t even get through it cover to cover) and seek out MacCabe’s wonderful book.  Of course, among other writing on Godard, another crucial reference remains the collection Godard on Godard (1985).  Godard started as a film critic, and there is a tremendous amount of the filmmaker’s own writings available that shed much light on his manner of thinking and his cinematic work as such.