Director Jean-Luc Godard had nothing to do with the 50th anniversary restoration of his debut feature, Breathless (a.k.a. À bout de souffle) (4 screens), which just goes to show how badass he is. He made one of the most astonishing, groundbreaking, game-changing debuts in movie history, but he has moved on. To go back and pat himself on the back for this old achievement would be in direct opposition to everything he stands for. Instead, the cinematographer Raoul Coutard has supervised the restoration, and the quality is supposed to be so awesome that even the most hardened critics are gibbering and going nuts. I haven't seen the new print yet, but I have seen the film many times, and it very much deserves any kind of accolades it gets.
Everyone has heard by now that Breathless "invented" the jump-cut and that MTV used all of its innovations and ran them into the ground. The truth is that it's still as much a cool movie as it is a "great" movie, perhaps the equivalent of something like On the Road in literature. It still works. It still stands up to everything that's craven and ordinary about movies. It's dedicated to Monogram Pictures, an ultra low-budget studio best known for the Charlie Chan films, the Bowery Boys films, and the Cisco Kid films. It plays a bit like a "B" movie, with Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the run from the cops and bringing a girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg) into his troubles. But at the same time, Godard is not in the least interested in things like suspense, plot, character development or redemption. Thank goodness.
Rather, Godard brings up dozens of ideas and references, both visual and in the dialogue, and bashes them up against one another, whether they fit or not. These bits simply zing around in the air, and certain viewers will pick up on certain pieces. There's Humphrey Bogart, Budd Boetticher's Westbound (1959), Faulkner and Renoir, etc. And yet, in all of this, an emotional throughline actually exists in the movie. There's a reason that both Belmondo and Seberg became international stars after this: we care about them. Or, perhaps more appropriately, we're fascinated by them. It's a movie that tries just about everything and gets away with it all. We desperately need Breathless right now.
Meanwhile, according to the new documentary Best Worst Movie (2 screens), many viewers have embraced the loopy genius of Troll 2 (1990), which is another example of the type of movie we rarely get and need more of. As idiotic and as clueless as it is, and as technically inept and badly written and badly acted, it's at the very least totally earnest and completely genuine. It's not cynical or calculated and condescending, the way most bad movies are.
Best Worst Movie contains some interesting, entertaining stuff, and the best part is watching the fans enjoy themselves and talking enthusiastically about their beloved movie. (Our fearless managing editor Scott Weinberg also appears in the film.) But Best Worst Movie also makes me sad, as we follow all the poor actors like George Hardy, who appeared in Troll 2 and really wanted a shot at the limelight. Now they're revisiting their work, trying to earn some long-overdue glory, and assuming that infamy is just as good as fame. It, too, fails to satisfy. Perhaps everyone should take a cue from Godard and let the work speak for itself.