Movie of the Week #13

Meetin' WA
(Jean-Luc Godard; 1986)

One of the least remarked upon attributes of Jean-Luc Godard is how thoroughly he mastered the medium of video production. For him Video was not a mere substitute for film, but something separate and distinct, an aesthetic platform all its own to which he brought a heretofore unrevealed dimension in his art; one that subtly informed the work he would later do once he returned to Cinema.

It is, however, somewhat understandable that this pocket of his career should be so little known, given that his extended video works of the 1970s . . . Six fois deux, for example, or the remarkable France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants . . . continue to languish in the limited access obscurity into which they landed with a thud virtually from the hour of their creation. There are those in the fundamentally class-based universe of cinephilia who would not have it any other way, however. I mean, don't let's kid ourselves here. There is, and always has been, a vast amount of social comfort to be derived for Us (the cinephile class) if They (the vulgar herd) have no access to the works we get to see in the cinephile dungeons of large urban centers (after all, if we can't use film to construct a bizarro-world recreation of High School where we are no longer the geeks we once were then, I ask you, what is the point?).

So Jean-Luc Godard's video creations remain militantly inaccessible to all but the small number who've been fortunate enough to see them. And more than any of these works, 1986's Meetin' WA stands as testament to the extraordinary facility he developed with this sub-medium; a faciility harder-achieved in the 70s, when video production was a far more dolorous and taxing enterprise than it is today.

At once sublime and witty, the 26 minutes of Meetin' WA consist of an interview Jean-Luc Godard conducted in 1986 with Woody Allen, the director of What's Up, Tigerlily and Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (and soon to be featured in the final moments of Godard's abortive Cannon Pictures' King Lear). The chat itself is amiable enough; certainly avoiding any conceivable adversarial notes; but this, along with the New York setting (giving Allen the home field advantage as it were) does nothing to prevent a visible anxiety from growing on the part of the filmmaker as the interview goes on.

It's as if it dawned on Allen, right in the middle of everything, that this tape could be . . . used . . . in some way he would not be able to control, that he was talking to a man who long ago demonstrated that he would never be bound to a standard not his own. Gradually, almost anticipating this development, Godard's camera moves in closer and closer, Allen's eyes dart back and forth between Godard and his translator (no less than film scholar and author Annette Insdorf) while questions are asked, the expression on his face bordering at times on open worry; like he's waiting, with only marginal patience, for some sign of what it is he's gotten himself into to manifest itself. It is, perhaps, the only occasion where Woody Allen seems as neurotic as the persona he wrote for himself was always said to be.

The Music is by Count Basie & His Orchestra; from their amazing 1961 Roulette LP The Legend (from the Pen of Benny Carter)


Andy Rector said...

It's interesting where he went with video: into working class homes (for long unbroken durations; Numero Deux, France/Tour), to other filmmakers (real amateurs like Marcel in Six/Fois and real professionals like Allen), to journalists (Six/Fois), and finally to himself again and again (his own laboratory/factory, physical and intellectual). I believe it was Daney who said that his video work brought a new sound to cinema too, the hollow richocheting sound of those concrete-walled working class homes. And it was Daney also who said Godard was "breaking the hum" of television using its own means, that is, interviewing someone, but uninterrupted for a full hour (Six/Fois).
Sadly, I've heard the video work is deteriorating, the tape is rotting, and a look at the stills in recent Godard books would indicate as much.
Meetin' WA is incredibly lively!

Mike D said...

very interesting and funny too. allen's bewilderment at times to Godard's weird questioning is very amusing, but i dont quite get the sense of fractured paranoia from Allen that you do.

still great stuff - thanks for sharing this

Tom Sutpen said...


Lively it is, and I'm afraid that, from all available evidence I've seen, you're correct about the physical decline of his video work (I wonder if there'll ever be a video preservation movement as high profile as the counterpart movement too preserve film?).

In a sense, Godard's work on video was a more effective stab at fulfilling a revolutionary intent that I think he only superficially touched with his Groupe Dziga Vertov-era filmmaking. Whether he should go back to video in a more substantial way is probably asking for too much, but I think it something of a minor tragedy that he didn't stay with video longer than he did (Meetin' WA is virtually a backward glance at the form, rather than a return to it).


True, you never see Allen pulling his hair out or sweating bullets . . . something he would do plenty of in the next decade . . . but I think I'm on pretty firm ground in characterizing the expression on his face as one of growing anxiety.