One of the distinctions of Film Socialisme in Jean-Luc Godard’s oeuvre is its near-absence of cinemacentric references (the most prominent visual citation is from Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, a film from the so-called experimental-film tradition, one that has played a slender part in Godard’s lifetime of cinematic reflections). This time around, Godard comes to the history of cinema from the outside, as in a sequence that features the voice-over remarks “My friends, I’ve found the black box: here’s why Hollywood is called the Mecca of cinema—the tomb of the Prophet—all gazes turned in the same direction—the movie theater.” Likening the movie screen to the Kaaba, Godard suggests that the secular Jews of Hollywood were also founders of a faith, of a devotion to the guided gaze, sacralized by the prophetic power of the image itself. Yet calling the discovery the “black box” suggests that Godard considers the definitive record of Hollywood’s influence also to be a disaster and its prophetic influence to be fraudulent. It also suggests the loss of faith that accounts for the absence of references to the classic cinema and, in particular, to the Hollywood movies that were the core of the tradition he inherited and perpetuated.
This is the second installment of Brody’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
10:19 A.M. WQXR: Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, op. 94, played by Heinz Holliger and Alfred Brendel. One of the great chamber-music recordings.
11:05 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “Mailer satirized the homespun Miller as ‘the complacent country squire, boring people with his accounts of clearing fields, gardening, the joys of plumbing (“Nothing like taking a bath in water that comes through pipes you threaded yourself”).’”
11:55 A.M. Tag Gallagher’s superb biography of Roberto Rossellini—remarkable to learn that Italian critics hated Germany Year Zero.
2:10 P.M. Village Voice—interviews with the directors Lena Dunham, Aaron Katz, and Matthew Porterfield (the director of two great movies, Hamilton and the forthcoming Putty Hill), about BAMcinemaFEST.
5:30 P.M. I Am Love, which opens June 25. Operatic, for those who don’t like opera; Viscontian, for those who don’t watch Visconti; erotic, for those who like to watch.
8:10 P.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “In February 1959, when the seventy-four-year-old Danish author Isak Dinesen—wasted, skeletal and ravaged by syphilis—expressed a desire to meet them, Carson McCullers invited the actress and playwright to lunch at her house in Nyack, New York.”
8:30 P.M. Mozart K. 497, Malcolm/Schiff on Mozart’s own piano from around 1780. Reminds me that my favorite recording of this masterwork of symphonic scope, a Nonesuch LP of it, performed by Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson, is unavailable on CD. Haven’t heard it since I sold my LPs in 1995. Wonder how it would sound now.
9:30 P.M. Watched Jonathon Niese complete his one-hit shutout; saw bits and pieces of the last few innings. Pessimistically expected that, pitching into the ninth inning, he’d lose both his one-hitter and his shutout—I was wrong.
10:00 P.M. Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, Blowing In from Chicago, a Blue Note recording from 1957. The cut “Blue Lights,” composed by the alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce.
10:25 P.M. Erica Morini, Mozart, Violin Concertos 4 and 5. Morini: a Viennese immigrant (born 1904) with a mellifluous tone, who speaks Mozart as her mother tongue. These are privately-made live recordings, from concerts with a local orchestra, from 1965 and 1971, and a document of the vast cultural enrichment of New York that resulted from the desperate emigrations of the nineteen-thirties and forties.
10:57 P.M. I notice a strange Heisenbergian aspect to this diary—the nocturnal chunks of time usually devoted to reading are, this week, instead go into filling out the up-to-the-minute account of the day’s cultural doings. Am reminded of what one great rabbinic scholar said to me about another: I read ten books and write one; he reads one and writes ten. Nonetheless, I am learning something else about my own cultural life: that it’s weirdly regimented, by day and time.
10:02 A.M. The week’s first cultural object is a new, yet-unreleased film by Claude Chabrol, The Son of Summer, starring Isabelle Huppert as a childless, married bourgeois intellectual who has a special, foster-like relationship to a young, disabled boy whom, one day, she kills. The film is so new that, in fact, it doesn’t exist—I dreamed it at the end of a morning of troubled sleep.
10:15 A.M. A chamber transcription of Haydn’s Symphony no. 94, the “Surprise” symphony, is playing on WQXR, New York’s classical-music station. It’s music I know and love—I play a spare transcription of the middle movements on recorder—but have never heard in this arrangement.
11:00 A.M. Twitter (and every hour or two for a few minutes, throughout the day). Love the sense of listening in on discussions at the next table when they know you’re listening. Good to chat back and forth with people I don’t know but would want to, with others I do know but don’t talk with often enough, with a surprisingly large yet tight group of fellow cinephiles. The 140 characters? A snapshot of an idea.
11:10 A.M. Heading for the subway, unusually late.
11:20 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, by Jeffrey Meyers on the No. 6 and the R. Anticipating something like a twist on the line from Saturday Night Fever: “Maybe he’s not so smart and maybe she’s not so dumb.”
11:47 A.M. The New York Times’s Web site, checked intermittently throughout the day’s editorial duties.
3:20 P.M. Glenn Kenny’s blog Some Came Running led me to his piece at Mubi about politicized viewings of “Sex and the City 2.” It concludes with a citation from Slavoj Zizek, which prompted me to revisit Adam Kirsch’s critical debunking, in The New Republic, of Zizek’s politics (The Deadly Jester), and Josh Strawn’s debunking of Kirsch’s, at Jewcy.
7:52 P.M. “The Young Schubert,” a recording by the pianist Leonard Hokanson, a student of Artur Schnabel. Hokanson delights in Schubert’s adolescent inspirations.
8:20 P.M. NY Post: the bridge column. I played a lot in high school, not at all since then—but I read the bridge column every day. And Page Six: the item about Ron Jeremy lunching at Condé Nast. I saw him in the lobby beforehand, where lots of employees came up to greet him. Afterwards, plenty of people in the office were talking about him.
8:30 PM. The Times: Read the front-page story with the headline, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.” Put any noun in the place of “gadgets” and there would be a price to pay; that’s true of any addiction or abuse, not just of electronic stimuli. Read the op-ed piece about legislative battles in Wisconsin over raw milk.
9:27 P.M. Bud Powell, A Portrait of Thelonious. Powell, the definitive bebop pianist and my favorite jazz pianist, whose scintillating yet melodious right-hand runs are anchored by the dark lightning of his left hand’s chords. His later recordings (such as this one, from a Paris studio in 1961) are much and wrongly maligned. What he lost in exuberance he gained in profundity; and where they’re exuberant (Live in Geneva 1962, for instance), they’re still more profound.
9:40 P.M. On-line Driver’s Manual and Study Guide—having let my license lapse, inadvertently, decades ago, I need to start again, with a learner’s permit: “You may not cross any railroad tracks unless there is room for your vehicle on the other side. If other traffic prevents you from crossing all the way, wait, and cross only when there is room.”
12:05 A.M. A few minutes of John Ford’s The Rising of the Moon, his low-budget Irish film, from 1956.
1:11 A.M. While preparing to DVR No Sad Songs for Me (which Jean-Luc Godard wrote about in Cahiers du Cinéma at the age of twenty-one), I burn to DVD—and start to watch—High Time, a 1960 comedy directed by Blake Edwards, starring Bing Crosby as a prosperous fifty-ish businessman who decides to get a college education.
2:48 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess. Reading about Arthur Miller’s troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee and its heinous methods, in 1956-57, even after the fall of McCarthy: “Miller said his battle with the committee was ‘a fraud and a farce, except it cost me a fortune [$40,000] for lawyers and a year’s time lost in the bargain, worrying about it and figuring out how to react to it.’”