DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Made in U.S.A.

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Hough, Jun 30, 2009.

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  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Made in U.S. A.

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1966
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1  anamorphic
    Running Time: 85 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $ 29.95

    Release Date: July 21, 2009
    Review Date: June 30, 2009
     
     
    The Film
    3.5/5
     
    Jean-Luc Godard’s struggles to amalgamate his desire for cinematic innovation with his burgeoning interests in international politics manifest themselves obviously and painfully in Made in U.S.A., one of his last films of the 1960s before he took a long sabbatical from filmmaking to concentrate on matters of more interest and importance to him. Compared to some of his earlier-in-the-decade masterworks, Made in U.S.A. is a patchwork that is pretty unsatisfying. Individual elements have some interest and charm, but added together, it doesn’t constitute much of an entertainment. At this point in his career, the writer-director was obviously not interested in traditional narrative any longer.
     
    Paula Nelson (Anna Karina) is on a mission to find out who murdered her one-time lover Richard Politzer (voice of Jean-Luc Godard). Could the killer be one of the men who seem to be trailing her: Donald Siegel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) or Paul Widmark (Laszlo Szabo)? Perhaps the weasly informer Mr. Typhus (Ernest Menzer) holds some answers. Or maybe writer David Goodis (Yves Afonso) knows more than he’s saying. Regardless, with loaded gun in hand and fearless about using it, Paula sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery..
     
    Even more so than in his previous film Pierrot-Le-Fou, Godard plays with cinematic conventions here. Characters break the fourth wall and directly address the audience and mention us by name as a cinema audience. Actions are repeated by replaying a film sequence. At certain points, the soundtrack is turned off, and characters are speaking in silence. As in the great The Earrings of Madame De…, the last name of Paula’s lover is never allowed to be heard (due to French censors intervening), so there is a succession of noisy interruptions to obliterate the sound of his name whenever it’s spoken (and it’s spoken a lot). Godard crams his screenplay with paeans to American cinema, both real (Preminger, Aldrich, Siegel, Hecht, Widmark) and fictional (Ruby Gentry, Daisy Kenyon) as well as references to the politics of the era: Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, Ben Barka, the Communists, and on and on. In fact, he seems to have so many things on his mind that making a credible narrative is simply not part of the plan. He’s got attractive players and a decent enough outline for a plot, but it really doesn’t go much of anywhere, and despite all the cinematic fiddling, the movie is interesting only as another piece of the Godard puzzle that hasn’t much been seen by audiences. As anything but that, the movie is insubstantial and unfulfilling.
     
    This was Anna Karina’s last film for the man who was at one point her husband, and he films her lovingly in many close-ups and in gorgeous color. That he has her character wipe out two characters who are obviously stand-ins for Godard himself does not go unnoticed. Laszlo Szabo gives off some Jean-Paul Belmondo heat and charisma as Paul Widmark, and journalist Philippe Labro makes a surprise cameo appearance near the end of the movie playing himself very naturally and appealingly.
     
     
    Video Quality
    4/5
     
    The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this transfer and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Color is beautifully rendered in this transfer, and with sharpness spot-on, the image is bright and extremely appealing. Black levels are also surprisingly good though there are three pesky hairs which show up along the bottom of the frame spoiling the otherwise pristine appearance. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
     
    Audio Quality
    3/5
     
    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is appropriate for the period of the film’s production, but there is fairly prominent hiss which can be heard anytime the soundtrack gets otherwise quiet. Fidelity is fairly limited, especially in the myriad of sound effects that have been added to blot out the name “Politzer” which sound flat and crudely edited into the soundtrack.
     
    Special Features
    3/5
     
    “On the Cusp” is a very valuable dual video commentary featuring Godard biographies Colin MacCabe and Richard Brody discussing this film and Godard’s next movie 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (also available this month from Criterion) comparing them as examples of Godard’s disillusionment with filmmaking at this point in his career. It runs for 26 ½ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
     
    The disc features interviews with the two stars of the movie. The 2002 interview with Anna Karina runs 10 ¼ minutes while the 2009 interview with Laszlo Szabo runs for 5 ¾ minutes. Both are in anamorphic widescreen.
     
    Made in U.S.A.: A Concordance” is an essential extra detailing all of the pop film, literary, and political references which have been crammed into the movie. It runs for 17 ½ minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
     
    There are two trailers available for viewing (though they are very similar in style and content): the original theatrical trailer runs 1 ½ minutes while the rerelease trailer runs 1 ¾ minutes. Both are in anamorphic widescreen.
     
    The enclosed 14-page booklet contains some stills from the movie and an informative essay on the movie and its place in Godard’s life by film critic J. Hoberman.
     
     
    In Conclusion
    3/5 (not an average)
     
    Made in U.S.A. features New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard experimenting again with cinematic technique, but the results are edifying only for fans of the director or the French New Wave movement. The Criterion package offers the film in a first rate presentation and with a series of bonuses that bring the director’s aims into much clearer focus.
     
     
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

    The review with additional comments can also be found here in the HT Gear & Movies section of the site.

    Edited by MattH. - 6/30/2009 at 10:47 pm GMT
    Edited by MattH. - 6/30/2009 at 11:07 pm GMT
     
  2. Will*B

    Will*B Supporting Actor

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    Great review; thanks, Matt.

    I agree with you about this film. When compared to earlier works such as Une Femme est Une Femme or Pierrot le Fou, Made in U.S.A. comes across as a somewhat unfocused and confused (or just confusing...?) essay on themes that Godard addressed in a much more astute way in the more accomplished Weekend.

    Despite this, I'm very much looking forward to this disc. The extras might shed some much-needed light on the film's intentions. Input from Colin McCabe is always extremely valuable, and I'm sure the essay by J. Hoberman is also well worth reading.

    I'm looking forward to a review of Deux ou trois choses... soon; the screencaps over at DVD Beaver look stunning.
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Thanks. Yes, the bonuses are VERY valuable additions that help clear up many problems I had with the film's intentions and execution. That next Godarad review will likely be this weekend. Some other discs came in yesterday with a June 30th street date, so they'll jump to the front of the line.
     

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