© 2015 by James Clark
David Thomson cherishes Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) for its “… configurations… so mysterious, so averse to everyday explanation;” and he goes on to wrap it up as an everyday bonbon. “Seen now, Le Samourai looks like a film from an earlier age, one made at a time when great films were necessary (and regular) because they demonstrated and fulfilled the nature of the medium.” That’s quite a niggardly pratfall! Not many sentences begin with avant-gardist premises only to flash logical-positivist conclusions. Such conclusions (living in the vicinity of Jean-Luc Godard’s academicism) are copiously pinpointed by Thomson’s last words on the subject, prefaced with passport-to-adulation effete pessimism. “Now that the medium is in ruin or chaos, Le Samourai looks as abstract, yet as beautiful and as endlessly worthy of study, as the Giotto frescoes in the basilica in Assisi. That which seemed fanciful has become an eternal and luminous lesson in how men behaved when they believed behavior mattered.” Such eloquent superficiality should not interfere with our engaging the film Melville in fact offers us, a film-phenomenon (rather than a concept) that has more serious work to do than prettily signing a death certificate for all innovative activity in our time.
There have been myriad endeavors over the fairly recent past stemming from conviction that behavior matters—in fields seemingly so disparate as quantum physics, ontology, architecture, sports and, to name but one more field which at the same time neglects many other efforts, film. None of them, however, has much to recommend in Giotto. Unlike researchers and builders in awe of the innovative lengths to be essayed, the unique human phenomena appearing in grounds-breaking films do not luxuriate in collegial centres. Thomson’s essay includes the alert about our film in the spotlight today (short-circuited, as it happens, to coincide with antiquated stasis), “Everything is in the playing or the enactment.” That is a window on the world which many (Thomson included) harbor a strong impulse to smash. Allowing oneself to babble on about such dynamics without including an iota of what they imply disqualifies one from effectively fathoming what a work like Le Samourai is about. (more…)