Custom «Godard’s Made in the U.S.A» Essay Paper Sample

Godard’s Made in the U.S.A

During the decade after the Second World War the French critics used the term ‘film noir’ to describe the American cinema. Film noir means ‘black film’, this unique style was an indication of the dark mood that engulfed the American society after the war. According to Silver and Ward the film had a consistency in style that included the protagonists’ male and the fatal women. However, in the 1946 Howard Hawk’s classic the Big Sleep the male protagonist Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) was able to overcome the fatal woman.1   The film The Big Sleep is an investigative thriller that was directed by Howard Hawk. The film was inspired by Raymond Chandler mystery crime novel series under the same name .The screenplay was written by William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett.2 The character of the hero and heroine in the classic movie were played by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall respectively(real life wife and husband). Apart from last scene the film kept to the story line. The director did admit that the plot was incoherent, in one scene when he sent a telegram to Chandler to ask him ‘who killed the man whose car was fished out of the river?’The man was the General Sternwoods’ chauffeur Owen Taylor and Chandler couldn’t figure it out.3 Hawks concern was the audience ability to follow the movie.  During a test screening to the US troops Hawks felt the last scene had to be changed, therefore he shot more scenes of romance between Marlowe and Vivian to give the movie a romantic touch.4 The film which is over 60 years old still feels captivating and of high quality. The confession by Jean-Luc Godard that he was inspired by Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep is an indication that the film Made in U.S.A had many similar aspects in its directing.

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In 1966 the film Made in U.S.A was produced by Jean-Luc Godard. It was largely influenced by Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep. However, the film did not get distributed in the United States till April 1, 2009 due insolvency of the producer Georges de Beauregard’s and the failure of Godard’s project to pay adaptation rights to American mystery writer Donald E. Westlake on his novel The Jugger.5 The film however had its single screening for its premiere at the 1967 New York Film Festival. Godard explained in the Le nouvel observateur article that while directing Made in U.S.A he thought of more than the remake of The Big Sleep. He wanted to coerce the producer Beauregard to tackle the adaptation of American lifestyle in France and to engage in the Ben Barka affair.Mehdi Ben Barka was the founder of the Moroccan Socialist Party , a party that was opposed to the King Hassan II. He was abducted on 29 October 1965 by French police officers in Paris and was never seen again. Investigation into his disappearance and that of others during the reign of King Hassan II is still ongoing.This political notion in the movie is emphasized by the death of the young communist writer Richard. In the film modernity is represented by the skinny young men smoking captured against the ordinary of Old France as photographed by cinematographer Raoul Coutard to represent the disparity between the old France and the youthful one. This is a clear indication of the infiltration of American pop culture into French lifestyles. Godard’s Made in U.S.A is more vulgar than any movie he made before or after yet he tries to show that rock and roll and miniskirts are in essence a form of mind control.6

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Shared aspects

One of the shared aspects in both movies is the mysterious murders that had to be eventually resolved. In the film The Big Sleep Philip Marlowe is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood to investigate blackmail on his daughter Carmen by Arthur Geiger due to gambling debts. Geiger owns bookstore which Marlowe suspects deals with distribution of pornographic material. Vivian suspects that Marlowe has been hired to investigate the disappearance of Sean Reagan. While he’s investigating, a series of murders are committed starting with that of Geiger. He is determined to find the truth to the end. The movie is intriguing as Carmen scandalous pictures are used for blackmail. What follows is breathtaking action as Marlowe investigates the deaths. Later he tries to aggressively inquire from Vivian her deals with Mars. In the end he informs the police that Mars killed Reagan. In the movie Made in U.S.A Godard flips the convention of the film noir by having Ann Karina played the investigative role that Humphrey Bogart had in The Big Sleep. The plot involved Paula Nelson going to Atlantic City to search for her lost lover Richard Politzer. Upon arrival she finds out that Richard is dead and starts to investigate the cause of his death. In the ensuing events Paula uncovers an international political that is never fully explained.

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In the 1946 classic The Big Sleep the two main actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were husband and wife and had married a year earlier. In the movie some portions such as the racehorse dialogue were reshot to take advantage of the romance that already existed between Bogart and Bacall. The later version released on 23 August 1946 was able to captivate the audience with the additional scenes but was more confusing as some vital content was omitted. Interestingly in the 1966 Made in U.S.A, the producer Jean-Luc Godard was married to the beautiful actress Ann Karina but their marriage was on the verge of collapsing. Critics later argued that Made in U.S.A was Karina’s farewell to Godard and vice versa.

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The film Made in U.S.A was shot during the French New Wave era which was a critic of the classical cinemas. They argued that film was a form of expression that commanded the same influence as a work of art such as a painting or novels. Jean-Luc Godard interest in film was based in its criticism. He was one of the critics alongside Eric Rohmer and Rivette and used the film magazine Cahiers du Cinema to publish his concerns.7 The American film critic Andrew Sarris called this the auteur theory. This theory stated that the director was the creator and author of the film. The director had to be technically competent and have a personal touch to the film. Kawin noted that the film itself represents a dream of its creator that is the director  yet  sometimes functions as the viewer’s dream. He also analyses the images one sees in film and argues that the images the camera records may seem as though they are generated by a consciousness. He asserts that movies can have first persona narration to fuel psychological response by the audience.8 Critics of this theory include Pauline Kael who said that filming was a collaborative task that involved screenwriters, studio executives and others. In her review of the classic film Citizen Kane she notes the unmatched talents of cinematographer Gregg and co-writer Manckiewicz as evidence.9

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Although the titles are not related they are closely intertwined. The title of the film The Big Sleep was a possible indication of death as ‘the big sleep’10. In the film a number of people were murdered due to blackmail and vengeance. However, Marlowe pursuit of truth brings justice. ‘Made in U.S.A’ can be interpreted as a tribute to the American film noir due to their determination to bring out this dark stories in time when the pop culture of Disney cartoons and  the strict Hollywood morality codes were in place. The production Code would not allow explicit exposure of sexuality. To quote Godard its evident the movie was dedicated to Nicholas ray and Samuel Fuller, two great Hollywood noir directors. 11

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Violence is another shared aspect that forms a core theme for the two films. In the Big Sleep, Geiger is shot dead in his house, this is followed by the discovery of the death of Owen Taylor, Sternwoods driver. Later, as Brody is explaining the blackmail to Marlowe he is shot dead in revenge by Carol Lundgren, Geiger’s former driver. While walking towards Marlowe, Vivian is attacked by some friend of Mars but Marlowe successfully intervenes. Canino, a hired assassin attacks Marlowe and is shocked when he regains consciousness to find he’s tied up. Vivian frees him and he is able to kill Canino. Marlowe makes arrangements to meet with Mars at Geiger’s house where he holds him at gunpoint. As he tries to free Marlowe’s gunfire he is mistakenly shot dead by the four men he had left outside.12 This violence is also in the fiction Made in U.S.A and starts when Paula kills Typhus, the informer. She encounters many bodies and leaves her own trail just like her predecessor Philip Marlowe.

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The period during which The Big Sleep was acted was post Second World War era where war-related films were rampant. Warner Bros. withheld the release to ensure all war related films were distributed in fear of people’s waning interest. However, certain background indicators such as pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ‘B’ sticker in the side window tell of the wartime production.  In the film Made in U.S.A France was dealing with its own political upheaval especially due to colonization of North Africa. During this period there was a media ban on anything that was related colonial wars. Any film that was acted during this period would not be released until they had passed proper scrutiny by the national film review board. If a film had any political undertones then it would only be distributed if it changed the content or the ban was lifted in the future. The government had to reconsider its actions as the youth and the artists such as the film directors were opposed to colonization. Soon as the Algerian war of independence ended the films were released. It was also during this time that Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted. Godard was committed to sociopolitical change and he used filmmaking to channel revolutionary leftist politics.13

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The film The Big Sleep followed the classical style of narration that was characteristic of the Classical Hollywood cinema. It involved three phases the starting, the middle and the conclusive end. In these movies the characters took up a central role that was unique and easily defined. A good example is the role of the detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart), he was actively involved in the entire movie and he established a goal oriented trait. This could also be said of other actors such as Lauren Bacall and the supporting cast who were always self motivated. The active participation of the cast recurs in Godard’s movie Made in U.S.A where Vivian automatically fits into her role as she investigates circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of her lover Richard. The film Made in U.S.A had an overindulging theme of violence that was an implication of the human absurdities. The movie is captivating as the French New Wave was keen on adapting experimental filming techniques. In the films released during this era most questions that captivated the viewers mind during screening were not answered at the end14. Most movie fans were left with question even after watching the entire movie.











Filming techniques

This are methods used to capture, analyze and edit a series of still photographic images to form an image picture. Advancement in technology has greatly changed the way films are created. It has made it much easier to capture and edit motion pictures with the use of modern softwares and hardware. Before the digital technology the methods in place included;   


In this technique film segments were developed besides narrative techniques. The film segments were later joined in a sequential order.

Discontinuous editing

This kind of film techniques involved deliberately not following the rules governing continuity editing whose main purpose is to smooth out the scenes and create coherence. The purpose of discontinuous editing is to authenticate the film. This was especially so in the New Wave as the directors violated the conservative paradigm. This technique shocked the audience and Godard was accused of disrespecting the viewers.

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Long takes

Long takes were long continuous scenes taken especially during the French New wave. They were stylistic in nature and adapted by Godard in the film Breathless (A bout de souffle). It involved cutting the parts that were not needed. The jump cuts involved that did not fit into each other giving the film discontinuity 

It is clearly evident that Godard’s Made in USA was inspired by Hawk’s The Big Sleep. In the two movies there a lot of shared themes that bring into sight the work input by the two directors. Godard chooses a female investigator to take the role of Bogart in the Big Sleep. The level of action and intrigue that surrounds the mysterious murders that have to be resolved is enough to captivate any movie enthusiast. Once someone scrutinizes the two movies he/she is able to identify the corresponding themes. These themes have been discussed extensively and clearly indicate Godard was inspired by Hawk’s work on The Big Sleep.

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