One would be hard-pressed to argue for Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language as obscure or below-the-radar. Following a recent premiere at Cannes, where the picture very probably earned more attention than anything else there, it became a central points of focus at Toronto and New York’s respective fall festivals — hardly small affairs in their own right. It’s in the hands of Kino Lorber, a fine distributor. It’s playing at two of New York’s more prominent theaters, “art house” or not. It can lay claim to some of the best reviews for any film from this or the last few years. It’s hailed by publications big and small as a technical breakthrough.
So why can’t so many people see it? The week since Language’s release has seen the start of a minor controversy regarding proper exhibition: it’s not just that some of the most practical reasons (i.e. who’s equipped to properly screen it) are a hindrance, but that petty terms (i.e. who’s afraid to screen it) are screwing over cinephiles who don’t occupy New York. A couple of recent articles have laid out the issue rather clearly, and their diagnosis isn’t one that shows signs of improvement. When Variety notes that Godard doesn’t even wish to have it seen in any format other than a three-dimensional, stereo-surround setting, where is everyone else left?
Which means most will never actually experience the film. Though I’ve long abhorred the notion that certain films need to be approached in specific ways so that they might “count” — it only makes perfect sense that “have you really seen the film?” became something of a meme among cinephiles on Twitter — Goodbye to Language does, as you’ve likely heard by now, represent the most significant use of the format yet. But it’s more than visual astonishment and the most aesthetically overpowering experience you’ll have in a theater this year: it also stands alongside Scorsese’s Hugo as the only film that weaves its three-dimensional images with both narrative and subtextual intent. (No matter what you think of the entire effort, too. Even many who find the man’s political lecturing intolerable have fallen under its spell.) If a movie house has become, in most instances, merely a place where you can see something months before a home-video release, Godard has sought to recapture it as an important space, one in which images can jut forth and sounds can truly surround — past surround, even, venturing instead into the realm of an aural swarm.
If not likely to be a 3D-equipped art house’s biggest seasonal hit — it’s still Godard, after all, and even a film about the dissolution of words can still overwhelm in its torrent of philosophical musings — but exactly the sort of thing any theater with the capabilities would be foolish not to donate at least one screen toward. (The slate of who’s getting Language in coming months evinces little consistency in the selection of location, those lucky theaters possibly just fitting a specific bill.) This doesn’t mean the end of the road, though.
Because we firmly believe it’s any curious party’s right to see Goodbye to Language in the only proper form, here’s what we’ll suggest: stop by your local independent theater’s website and, with just a couple of scrolls and clicks, get any sort of email address geared toward customer support / inquiries. Quickly ask them what they’re doing to make things happen — note the demand to see it, the importance of seeing it in 3D and with stereo sound, etc. — with as much grace as possible. This doesn’t guarantee 3D Godard will be stopping by your town, but it’ll show interest. Sometimes, that’s the most it takes.
Do you hope to see Goodbye to Language in its theatrical run? Will you contact your local theater about screening it?