8 April 2020

Godard goes fishing

For The Comics Journal a review of Mitchum, a new edition of the French anthology by Christian Blutch” Hincker which arrives now pretty much like a thunderbolt.

I wrote about Total Jazz before; but Mitchum is stronger meat, comics of obsession and violence being countered by art and dancing—of poor human nature being inseparable from the better parts, a fairly radical notion. To see the ways women are treated in Mitchum and not spot that Blutch has turned his vision onto the men involved as well has missed the point, if only since several of the men involved are clearly him. Blutch is suggesting that obsession—lust for that matter—might not be an entirely negative thing, and you don’t catch many creatives hinting at that now stories about the human id are out of fashion.

Mitchum also finds room for an incidental drive-by nutmegging of the video-essay film criticism industry before that form really existed, in the section where something resembling Robert Mitchum beams down into a story. Video-essays deal in juxtaposition and re-reading and re-emphasis and re-framing and re-scoring of images from films, but in the end you’re stuck with ingredients which actually exist. Blutch has the entire manipulative subjectivity of cartoons to work with, images freed from any kind of prior life at all. His golem of Robert Mitchum could hardly be more resistant to close reading even before you tried to work out whether he was actually Robert Mitchum in the first place. If film criticism’s current wish that art sticks to answers rather than questions is well worth chewing over which it absolutely is then it’s a good moment for Blutch to restate that art can leave you to join a lot of dots yourself. Restate through a megaphone.


It’s fine to claim Mitchum as film criticism since Blutch has some form. So Long, Silver Screen was reprinted again a while ago, and none of the stories in there could be confused for video-essays either, even though they directly involve Jean-Luc Godard, Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Orson Welles and others. Blutch lacerates himself constantly throughout this book too, as a hopeless milksop in thrall to images of women and some men, but it’s an exercise in exaggeration and self-analysis. The book is tricky and rude and ribald and shape-shifts from metaphor to farce and back in a way that says something about the dreamland of movies but probably more about the wiring of your own taste in the things. An elderly Jean-Luc Godard turns up in a story initially set-up as The Swiss Family Robinson, endlessly catching fish that promptly dissolve to dust on the hook, until an observing caveman eventually yawns in boredom and wanders off. It’s an art joke and a coherent piece of film criticism and if processed into a workable video-essay would look like something Neil Innes sketched on a pad forty years ago next to a doodle of Godard playing the bagpipes.


One section in Mitchum slides into conceptual comics territory, when Blutch takes completed conventional comics pages telling a Western story and draws a female dancer over the top of every page—apparently an unrelated image, but of course that’s not how the mind works when confronted with it. LAAB #4, the crowd-funded broadsheet fanzine still agitating for print in the face of all the forces lining up against it, had a spread by Michael Horse, his Last Breath of the Black Snake” poster with cowboys and Native Americans fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline, drawn on top of a 1898 profit and loss ledger. Remixing cultural products gets you certain places, but remixing the symbolism might get you to alternate states altogether.


art


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