Tag: consumerism

Film review: Godard’s “Made in U.S.A.”

Made in U.S.A (Jean-Luc Godard)

“We were in a political movie … Walt Disney with blood.”

I generally do not discuss films unless I enjoy them and intend to recommend them without hesitation. Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in U.S.A. is an exception, worth mentioning in part because it has so rarely been viewed in the US. Godard made the film in 1966, during an incredibly prolific period of his career. Ostensibly, the film pays homage to “The Big Sleep,” a Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall detective story based on a book by Raymond Chandler. That earlier film classic is well-known for the sizzling chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, as well as the convoluted plot and ambiguous resolution of the murder mystery.

For his source material, Godard used a book (The Jugger) by Donald Westlake. It is one of Westlake’s Parker novels, penned pseudonymously as Richard Stark. Since Westlake did not authorize the use of his book and was not paid for his ideas, he sued successfully to prevent the film from being distributed commercially in the United States. The film premiered briefly at the New York Film Festival n 1967, but was not then shown again stateside until 2009 — very soon after Westlake died. TCM recently broadcast the movie and I recorded it.

Artistically, the film is interesting, colorful, and quite odd.
Westlake’s Parker, a ruthless killer and efficient criminal in the book series, is renamed Paula Nelson and played by the beautiful Anna Karina (Godard’s soon-to-be ex-wife). As the film’s colors and ideas are clearly embedded in the 1960s, this bit of gender-bending is obviously just one element of the broader social and cultural commentary addressed in the film. At one point, Paula says advertizing is fascism. On another occasion, she explains her cartoon-like experiences as if she is in a “film by Walt Disney, but played by Humphrey Bogart–therefore a political film.” A dirty cop twice talks in the voice of Tweety Bird and many of the colorful pop images in the film certainly add a cartoonish quality to the film.

As the New York Times explained in April 2009:

…while this film is far from a lost masterpiece, it is nonetheless a bright and jagged piece of the jigsaw puzzle of Mr. Godard’s career.

…There is, for one thing, a pouting and lovely Marianne Faithfull singing an a capella version of “As Tears Go By.” There are skinny young men smoking and arguing. There are the bright Pop colors of modernity juxtaposed with the weathered, handsome ordinariness of Old France, all of it beautifully photographed by Raoul Coutard. There are political speeches delivered via squawk box.

And of course there is a maddening, liberating indifference to conventions of narrative coherence, psychological verisimilitude or emotional accessibility.

As assaultive as “Made in U.S.A” can be, it also seems to have been made in a spirit of insouciance, improvisation and fun.

The Times does not devote much attention to the film’s explicit and implicit political agenda. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the disappearance and presumed murder of a young communist writer — the former lover of the film’s protagonist. Various characters in the film compare murder to war and the cold war to hot war. One ticks off a list of past battles, culminating in Hanoi, and suggests that all these wars have been essentially the same. Overtly leftist themes and slogans are woven into the dialogue and some characters seem to see a “vast right-wing conspiracy” almost everywhere.

Some critics interpret a strange bar scene as an example of Hegelian dialectic and the communist slogans emanating from the squawk box might suggest a Marxist dialectic at work. Whatever the preferred method, the title “Made in U.S.A.” almost certainly has a double meaning and arguably suggests the need for a double reading.

First, Godard’s homage to “The Big Sleep” says that American artists deserve credit and praise for the genre of film noir. And hard-boiled detective fiction as well — one character, a writer, is named David Goodis. These dark stories cover important themes often ignored in the mainstream. Of course, the mainstream is represented by Disney cartoons and advertizing and Godard speaks fairly explicitly and critically about these elements of pop culture. Even in “The Big Sleep,” the murderer’s identity is made ambiguous (and other important plot points are changed) because Chandler’s original story would not have been compliant with Hollywood morality codes of the time.

The second meaning of the title suggests that then-contemporary cold war conspiracies, whether overt like Vietnam or covert like a real mystery referenced in the film, were literally “made in America.” Again, the criticism is not especially subtle. Young thuggish characters named Robert McNamara and Richard Nixon briefly appear towards the conclusion of the main story. One proclaims that he enjoys killing and the other clearly assents.

Keep in mind that McNamara was Secretary of Defense at the time of this film serving under one of the most progressive Democratic administrations of the last century. LBJ’s “Great Society” produced important civil rights legislation, Medicare, Medicaid, new environmental laws, anti-poverty efforts, etc. But, of course, Johnson and McNamara also prosecuted and escalated the war in Vietnam.

Nixon was technically just a former Vice President (under Dwight Eisenhower), private citizen and corporate lawyer at the time this film was made. However, Nixon was an active party leader in 1966, meeting with foreign leaders while traveling abroad and campaigning for Republicans in midterm elections. Nixon had been a notable cold war hawk for some time and was a key figure on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In his first campaign, he defeated a female incumbent by implying she was a “pink lady” harboring “communist sympathies.”

In the ending shot, Paula tellingly opines that “The Right and the Left are the same. We have years of struggle ahead, mostly within ourselves.”

This film remains important because the struggle against pervasive commercialism is far from over and the cold war’s end failed to kill the national security state.

Cross-posted from my personal blog on this Nerd Friday because I have not been adding anything here this summer. Sorry about that.


Hybrid car bleg

I’ve been doing some car shopping this past week and it appears as if one of the best bargains around is the 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid. The base car’s invoice price is a bit less than $26,000. However, Nissan is offering $5000 (!!) cash back in some areas of the country — $4000 that has been available for many months, $500 that is a generic Nissan incentive over the next month, and $500 more for the holiday weekend.

That means that some dealers are offering the vehicle for under $20,000.

Additionally, because Nissan hasn’t sold many of these cars, they are still eligible for a nice tax credit from the federal government: $2350.

We’re now talking about a midsize Sedan Hybrid for $17,500. The non-hybrid version of this car is the top-rated vehicle in its class according to Consumer Reports. Prius may be a better mobile billboard, but the Altima seems like a very good car. Plus, Nissan licensed Toyota’s hybrid technology.

Personally, I’d add the K01 “convenience package” to the base brice, which provides an electrically adjustable driver seat and some other stuff for $1300. Indeed, including that option, I’ve been quoted $21,280 from a dealer I found on-line. The tax credit would reduce the price another 10% next year.

Here’s the catch — and the reason for my bleg: I apparently cannot buy (or even test drive) the car in Kentucky. Or anywhere near here. The dealership I linked is geographically the closest to my home and it is over 400 miles away.

Nissan is only marketing this vehicle in states that have adopted the “California emissions standards.” These are mostly in the northeastern U.S. — or on the west coast.

Thanks to cars.com, I found a used 2009 version of the car in Louisville and gave it a test drive. As some reviewers had warned, the vehicle hesitated (jerked?) a bit when switching from electric to gas-power. However, the car I drove had over 30,000 miles on its odometer as it was a former fleet car. I presumed the automobile had been worked hard and was not an especially good representative of the model.

Has anyone been behind the wheel of a 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid? Rental agencies sometimes have them. Does anyone own an older model? If so, I’d really appreciate your feedback. I’m seriously thinking of heading east to get this car — and that with the knowledge that the closest certified Nissan service technician for its hybrid is in Indianapolis, just over 100 miles away. Local dealers could only work on the non-hybrid parts of the car. In my view, AAA would provide any needed towing if something major went wrong.

Most reviewers disliked the vehicles limited availability and relatively high price (before rebates). Doesn’t it seem as if those problems can be resolved?

Anyone want to talk me back from the brink?



Terrorism and your neighbor’s sex life

The September Atlantic had a brief note in its Primary Sources section about how “Terrorists are turning more and more to crime to fund violence.” The piece references a Congressional Research Service report that apparently included “bootlegging Viagra” as one source of income.

I guess they’ve moved on from infant formula.

In any case, I did a bit of searching around and found this MSNBC/Newsweek piece from August 2006, which describes an alleged criminal ring in Detroit that was funneling funds to Hizbullah in 2002:

By 2002, Hammoud and some of his colleagues were believed to be running $500,000 worth of cigarettes a week across state lines and expanding into stolen contraband and counterfeit goods, including Viagra tablets. During a three-month period that year, authorities allege, more than 90,000 Viagra knockoffs were purchased, with a plan to sell them as the real thing. “They’re small, they’re high in demand and they’re easily transportable,” says Bob Clifford, a senior FBI agent. “They’re the perfect medium.”

I guess that does sound easier to market than stolen baby food.

It’s not good news for the average American suburbanite.

First using drugs and then driving SUVs promoted terror? Now sex?

Looks like all that’s left is rock and roll…wait.


© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑