Vivre sa vie (1962) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Pather Panchali (1955) dir. Satyajit Ray
Those who aspire at post-postmodernism generally see themselves as rejecting the irony of postmodernism in favor of genuine feeling. Stuckism and the New Sincerity are sold as anecdotes to the supposed coldness of modern and postmodern art.
But I’m starting to think the disease is imaginary. Sure, there are bad postmodern artists who leave us cold, but there are bad Stuckists who do the same.
I watched Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in succession. One is about a chain-smoking, philosophy-espousing French prostitute and is replete with Brechtian nods to the audience. The other is a tale of a plucky young boy growing up in poverty in India and seeing loved ones die.
Although Stuckists aren’t necessarily socialist realists, it’s clear they’d all nominate Pather Panchali as the more meaningful film. And it was very heart-wrenching. But Vivre sa vie nearly moved me to tears.
If I’m moved by watching a shot Anna Karina crying on-screen, is my experience somehow devalued because it comes in a scene where she is moved by watching a shot of Renée Jeanne Falconetti on-screen? Absolutely not. The irony and self-referentialism that defines the style in cinema are tools that can be used for pathos as well as for distance. The Epic Theater does not seek a stoic audience.
Dramatized social realism does seem to dominate the acclaimed independent circuit now – Winter’s Bone, Frozen River, Un Prophete come to mind immediately. Some of them were very good. But none of them touched me the way Synechdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine did. The Coen Brothers tell me more about humanity than the Dardenne Brothers do.
I don’t know near as much about painting or other arts as I pretend to know about film, but Rothko strikes me as genius, while most re-modernism just seems kitschy.
I’m sure a lot of this is just my personality. I was born before the Berlin Wall fell and decades before 9/11, so maybe I’m doomed to forever live in a postmodern mindset.
At any rate, attempts to add sincerity to postmodernism are wholly unnecessary. It’s always been there.
Vivre sa vie is #125 on the Top 1000 Films list I’m working on and Pather Panchali is #64. I’ve now seen 368.