The Avante-garde Before the Revolution
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 01/07/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The most memorable of the five segments is the Bertolucci short entitled "Agony." In this intense segment, a group of blissed or burned out actors from all over the world form a circle round Julien Beck, the group's leader. Beck is a famous acting guru and he is essentially playing himself. Bertolucci seems less interested in directing the action than in capturing the acting troupe as they go through their repertoire of exercises which in this case involve an acting out of some sort of ritual death ( of authority, of God, of man, of being, of belief....). There is, however, nothing cathartic about this ritual. Nor, I imagine, is the ritual meant to be perceived as being some kind of purifying rite for no renewal is promised or hoped for. It is simply a rite of death and the actors each act out their private torments and confusions for the only audience that matters to them-- their acting coach (who alone has the power to validate one form of acting/behavior over another).
The Bertolucci segment is by far the most memorable and it resonates in the imagination long after it is over. Bertolucci's acting troupe is reminiscent of the silent acting troupe in Antonioni's Blow Up but Bertolucci's actors are much more tortured and perplexed by the centerlessness of their existence.
Godard's segment is also about "acting," and though it is much less powerful than the Bertolucci segment it projects its own subdued kind of force. In this segment one couple (perhaps an actor and a director) watches another couple, and in the process of watching the former couple contemplates the meaning/truth, or lack thereof, of "film."
This is classic Godardian dialoguing. Like much of Godard's work it is both insightful and amusing but ultimately empty because no real connection is made between either of the dialoguing couples, they simply follow their circular self-referential threads of inquiry into exaustion. It is an interesting piece but because it is overly intellectual it is also cold. Even the humor does not allow one any relief from the ennui of endless intellectualization.
What is refreshing about the Bertolucci segment is that it feels like a spontaneous collaboration between actors and their acting guru and it feels like there is a life-sustaining and life-generating motive behind their activity (even though the substance of the ritual is the death of such connectedness). The Bertolucci piece is reminiscent of Blanchot and Beckett but it also transcends or extends the perimeters of those thinkers methodologies. Bertolucci, it seems, is interested in looking at the theatre (and film) as a kind of experimental canvas --a blank space, or tabula rasa, where man can reinvent or reimagine himself. There might not be any escape from death in theatre and film but in the production of plays and films an organic connectedness is formed between the various players which is the very thing that sustains life.
I think the relationship between film and life is essentially the theme of Godard's segment as well. Godard even has his players comment on the way film can, on rare occasions, capture something of life and the way it works (and Bertolucci is one of the filmmakers Godard's actors mention). The Bertolucci and Godard segments certainly complement each other as well as comment on each other in interesting ways. In my estimation, however, Bertolucci's piece has more of that elusive "life" in it that "art" is always looking for.
Even though the remaining three segments are much less accomplished individually, the five pieces work well together.