Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
A few years ago—well, I suppose it was 1980 or ’81, if you want to be like that about it—I took my (incredibly youthful) self to the Harvard Exit Theatre to see a movie. The Exit had been the location of many eye-opening movie experiences for me in previous years, a place I’d gone in my high-school days to find out about what foreign films were all about.
This visit was to the relatively new upstairs theater, where arthouse films could play for a week or two (the main house downstairs was doing a daily-changing repertory during this phase, I think). The arthouse title of the week was Jean-Luc Godard’s Every Man for Himself, which had been lauded as something of a return to past glory for the mainstay of the French New Wave. I was really into Godard at the time so this was something—the first time I’d ever gone to a Godard movie when it first opened.
Two people, a man and a woman, sat behind me. The woman said she was delighted the man had called her to go see the movie. He said something about the old days when they always went to see “the new Godard movie.” It had been a while, but this was a nice excuse to get together and see another one.
The conversation seemed weirdly sentimental for Godard, but whatever. The new film by a major filmmaker ought to be an event. The Harvard Exit is gone, but a new Godard film opens in Seattle this weekend, at the Grand Illusion Cinema, which dates back to the same period as the founding of the Exit. The Image Book continues in Godard’s recent vein of fragmented essay films, a dynamic collage of film clips and narration (or isolated observations) and music and sound. The “essay” is not in Godard’s words, most of which he speaks himself here. The essay happens in the way the pictures (many of which have been altered with digital means, and also apparently with analog means) collide with the words and music; the movie’s not a lecture on cinema and history so much as a kind of bath taken in those things. But a cold bath, a scintillating one.
To know what the film is exactly about would require another viewing—yes, it is that kind of film. But the way The Image Book works on your brainpan is one way Godard remains a fascinating research scientist in the laboratory of movies. Make a date and see it.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.