1968: february 24
spreading the thunderbird1958 love

out of breath

What makes us like a bad guy? Not talking real world, here, talking fiction. Why is Omar Little of The Wire so beloved of the show's fans? He's a thug, a thief, a murderer. But he tries to live by a code, he robs other bad guys, and Michael K. Williams plays the hell out of the part. He also lived much of his life outside of the institutions that turn everything into fossils on The Wire.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg play Michel and Patricia in Breathless, and neither is a "good" person. Michel, like Omar, is a thug and a thief and a murderer; Patricia is an amoral dilettante who tries on attitudes and emotions and clothing with equal affectation. We love these characters, even though they wouldn't love us ... they don't love anything, although since they are disaffected it's not like they hate, either. Belmondo and Seberg are part of the reason we love Michel and Patricia ... director Jean-Luc Godard is another ... cinematographer Raoul Coutard is in the mix, too. But none of this really answers my question, and this blog post isn't going to cough up an answer: ultimately, I have no idea why we love certain bad guys but not others.

Breathless is not an "unheralded film," obviously. It is one of the most influential films ever made, and for many of us, one of the greatest as well ("influential" does not always equal "greatest"). The first time I saw Breathless, I stayed in the theater and immediately watched it a second time. That remains the only time in my life I've done that. I just watched it again, and I loved it again, and I loved Belmondo and Seberg, and I really have no explanation. But I also love Bonnie and Clyde, and without Breathless there is no Bonnie and Clyde. Of course, the definition of "influential" is that without the one, there wouldn't be others ... Bonnie and Clyde is hardly the only movie about which this could be said regarding Breathless.

Here's another thing I've heard said, where I don't know how true the statement is. One thing about the great period of American movies between 1967 and the mid-70s is that there was a great audience for the films. Young people in particular cared deeply about movies, and happily educated themselves, auto-didact style, so that "everyone" had seen Breathless and many other Godard films. Now, the argument goes, American movies are mostly crap, but so are American audiences. It's not just that the young people today don't know Breathless ... it's that many of them don't know the modern equivalent (what would it be? Run Lola Run? Diva?). Like I say, I don't know if this "theory" is true, about the Golden Era or about today.

Oh, and this is the kind of thing I watch when I'm not worried about keeping up with the Oscars ... an old Godard movie. Not saying that to pump my snob status ... saying it because, whether because I'm old and crotchety or because I care about "quality," I'd rather watch Breathless again than watch many current movies for the first time. I am an old fart.


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