Matt’s Art Journal – January 7, 2021

I revisited Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat from 1963 today. I watched it for the first time many years ago but remembered nothing about it, except that it was in my bed in Prague with an ex-girlfriend of mine, who shared the name with the leach character of this film played by Anna Karina.

It’s always surprising to consider how prolific Godard was at this time. Le Petit Soldat doesn’t quite make the list of best films he ever made but one can certainly note many of the same influences of his other films from the time. In fact, I dare say that one of the things that define this Swiss director is repetition. A lot of the films he made, particularly in the ‘60s, have similar plots evoking B-thrillers and the fabled Monogram productions of Poverty Row. 

After I finished watching it, I received an email informing me of an interview I would have to record tomorrow for FRED Film Radio. It was with Ilze Burkowsa Jacobsen, director of a new film called My Favorite War. In the film, she chronicles her experiences of growing up in Soviet Latvia. I appreciated its honesty but I feel this type of animated documentary has been standardized. I’ve seen so many and they are all so similar that their message often gets lost on me. I think the subgenre reached its peak with 2008’s Waltz With Bashir by Ari Folman. I must revisit that one.

I also revisited The Pretenders’ 1979 self-titled debut album. Here is a band that, I feel, doesn’t get praised enough. In the past few years, I have especially grown fond of Chrissie Hynde. Aside from her songwriting, which can be as edgy as it can be tender, her personality is totally appealing to me. I’ve always fallen for the foul-mouthed, rebellious girls who take crap from nobody.

Besides that, the band is great. I’ve heard them once defined simply as a British band with an American frontwoman. In its literal simplicity, this definition conceals a whole blend of influences that defined an entire generation of music. It was a cross-cultural mix that set them apart from the punk scene of the time. This may be why, though they emerged from the London scene of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s roster, they’re not necessarily put in that same category.

This particular album is excellent and features a wide range of emotions. It kicks off with a rough-edged, punk song called “Precious,” where Hynde introduces her more aggressive nature. There’s something unusual in hearing aggressive, sexual lyrics being sung in a clean, high-pitched voice. Lines like “You’re taking nights and all the kicks, you’re so precious. But you know I ain’t shittin’ bricks, ’cause I’m precious” would usually be delivered in a hoarse voice. But there’s pixie magic in Hynde’s interpretation.

On the other hand, “Kid” is a song that showcases a surprising maturity. Here, Hynde interprets the role of a mother who must explain to her child that she is a prostitute. Despite its racy subject matter, the narrative is told with much humanity and is never explicit. It is the essence of a moment. It may seem like an unusual comparison to make but you can kind of make out Everly Brothers or even Paul Simon vibes about it.

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