"Being in the neighborhood the other day, with nothing particular to do, I decided to call round to the New Yorker office to see if anything was up," Terry Southern wrote in the 1950's. He described the forced casual ambiance of that office that set him "all a-pique and impulsive," so that he asked to have the writer White fetched. When E.B. White appeared, Southern said simply, "J'accuse!" and then turned around to leave the building.
My meeting with New Yorker film editor and film listings writer Richard Brody involved no finger pointing. But Brody is the anomaly of current New Yorker film writing, which is, for the most part, more about the words used to describe the films than about the films themselves. Richard Brody writes, on the other hand, in service to cinema; his exciting writing style is a transcription of surrendering to the movie-going experience. In his succinct film summaries, he uses language emotionally to describe the experience of the film, not just how it looks when who does what where. "Rarely have love and madness seemed so fruitfully allied," he wrote of Preminger's Daisy Kenyon (setting off a domino-effect of reconsideration for that film in New York). I told him that I don't even know what that phrase means, exactly, but somehow it's exactly descriptive of that film's intensity. (I'm not sure I know either!" said Brody.)
But while personal flourishes shape his film listings, Brody's first book, a biography of Jean-Luc Godard called Everything Is Cinema, is remarkable for its rhythmic and organized structure. (The book also differs notably from his listings in size: an epic 700 pages versus 200 word perfect summaries.) The biography seamlessly weaves a description of each of Godard's films into a description of the technical and collaborative process of making it, and then also reveals the personal and artistic inspirations behind its development. It reads like a novel, a tragic love story. And, while the tone of Brody's book is more anonymous than his listings, more objective, it is distinctly personal, the kind of book that only someone with a deep and complicated relationship with cinema could write.
As the last few days of the encore screenings of Made in the U.S.A and Two or Three Things I Know About Her at Film Forum mark the end of that theater's celebration of Sixties Godard, in what was The Year of Godard in New York, I looked back at my conversation with Richard Brody to look at what we can still learn from Godard's work of the 1960's.