a film like any other (1968)
As the twentieth century progressed, societal agreements for productivity in the Industrial age, like the 40 hour work week, became normalized; they became pillars, they became scripture. At the outset of the twenty-first century, things that may have been viewed as temporary circumstances during the early days of the industrial revolution have been in place so long that their validity is rarely questioned by the masses, the working class that Godard's student characters are so concerned over. Godard's students on screen are doing what has been the role of the student ever since; not only to learn but to question everything about the world around them. Today, this kind of query is seen as a right of passage, a necessary purging of rebellious tendencies that needs to be allowed a safe space to express itself, but never bear fruit. We want the youth to question, but we don't want them to take action. We want the youth to become politically active and engaged, but we want them to shut up and get a job before any of that action has any lasting effect on the older, established class. Godard's film captures the futility of this philosophical questioning as well as detailing its greatest hopes, aspirations and ideas. We are actively engaged at every moment in A Film Like Any Other by revolutionary ideas and musings, stock footage of protests and political activist groups, a cinematic stirring of the pot. What we also see is a group of faceless students talking in circles around one another, unable to organize even their small group into something effective of the kind of change they are capable of imagining. Many of their ideas for action revolve around gumming up the works of the great machine that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor. Their dreams of sticking a wrench in the gears of the establishment are reflective only of their disenchantment with current society, knowing ever what they want to avoid and what they want to end, never a concrete notion of what they want to create.
Contradiction forms the basis of the discourse here. The students lament Debord's Spectacle, the vapidity of films shown on television, yet admit to becoming "bored" and watching them, citing that they do not "know what else to do". The conundrum of the West, the citizen of the first world in the twentieth century; all this education and nothing to do. Bored and lethargic, but just smart and educated enough to know there is something better out there you could be doing with your time, if only you could figure out what it is. They didn't teach you that part, did they? Godard's student circle concludes that any society that exhausts personal autonomy and individuality to the point where one is vacant the moment they stop working on an assembly line is toxic. If we get out of our wage-earning rut, the circle well-tread into the floor by our daily pacing in it, and look around us, the emptiness in our educated minds becomes so burdensome that we tune out, switch off and succumb to boredom. In a land of plenty we are either fat, bored and lazing, or being forced to labor and bitching about it. With A Film Like Any Other Godard is perfecting his form of what he referred to as cinematic essays, but what is really seen here is more a cinematic painting where blending bits of found footage, a simple conversation shot impersonally and a mixture of unvarnished Leftist thought process and anecdotes from recent events blur together to form the tapestry. In a way it is a collage piece, but Godard's well-handled mixing process keeps the film fluid at all times, always in motion as we flow through a current of the times. It's said that Godard included a note to the projectionist when he sent the prints out instructing them to 'flip a coin' to decide what order to show the reels in. Astonishing is the end result, a film that seems to live and breathe in the moment as it is existing in front of our eyes, a film that, like much of Godard's work, feels far more alive than most cinema. In Godard's filmmaking, each frame gives birth to the next, seemingly in real time.
Godard, here and always, gives defining lines to the clouds that hover over society and the world at large. Through his cinema he renders the invisible, visible. The inherent contradictions of the 20th century lifestyle, the itching to dismantle what has been assembled, the boredoms and the comforts and the fact that it is more attractive to sit in a field smoking cigarettes and discussing revolution than it is to build the world after the revolution. It is more attractive to tear it all apart than it is to try and live within it. The underlying image we are left with is not one of revolution, of protest, or of violence, we are left with figures seated in a circle locked in discourse, how different the film would be if they eventually got up at the end and threw a trash bin through a window or something, but they don't. It is difficult to walk away from A Film Like Any Other and not feel stimulated, the ideas Godard is presenting are timeless questions that all organizations and organized societies will need to face at some time or another and so they are valid questions to ask. We also cannot walk away from it feeling that nothing has been accomplished by the film, but so what, honestly? The film is a document of great validity for its summation of its content and context, why should it need to inspire us to revolt? Or inspire us at all? To exist, we must go on existing. To revolt, we must be revolting.