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

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01/22/2009 10:00 AM |

Today’s your last day to catch Film Forum‘s new print (in fact, the New York premiere theatrical run) of the rarest movie of Godard’s cometlike early period, Made in U.S.A. (This Rialto rerelease will likely precede a long-delayed DVD release, allowing the movie to take a more permanent place in the 60s firmament.) An 80-minute noir lark — set within the self-immolating Left, with a purposefully incoherent plot — it was shot concurrently with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, in longish scenes in interior or otherwise self-contained locations. The movie seems at times like a repository for all the gags, philosophical tangents and low-culture references Godard couldn’t work into that more rigorous work.

The ideas seem mostly oven-fresh. Almost all the characters are named after icons of American pulp fiction and films (the movie itself is an unacknowledged Donald Westlake riff); there’s undigested interludes for semiotic musings and Marianne Faithfull singing “As Tears Go By.” And there are traces, in the dense dialogue, of the Godard I (and many others) have trouble with, the Godard whose films force the viewer to act as more of a reader. But Made in U.S.A. is a piece that moves mostly on tone — tone meaning both moods and colors, like Anna Karina’s bold pop-art print dresses, or the giddily artificial syrupy fake blood. There is, as in all 60s Godard, a prevalent sense of what-next excitement, exasperation and lightness.

As for Karina. She and Godard made the movie as their marriage was wrapping up; in her frequent close-ups her heavy-lashed eyes are seductive, wounded, cruel and inscrutable. It’s like he’s trying to fix her in his mind the only way he knows how.