Today it is unbearably hot in Philadelphia, I wore my pretty black sundress with the pastel suns and moons and pockets, it was my homage to Jean Seberg in A Bout de Souffle, I was going to walk 15 minutes to meet John at the theater, no big deal, 15 minute walk, I arrive absolutely - yes - breathless and having my usual cocktail of asthma and heat stroke and begin to throw a total tantrum on the sidewalk because we cannot find the theater and I have started bleeding today and instead of feeling cool and collected I feel like a feral cat hair fuzzy and sticking up and sweat pouring down my neck my pits my legs. John wants us to be 5 minutes late and I scream at him - literally, like a fucking she-devil on the streets - "have you ever even seen Annie Hall?" and of course he has, but that is something I hold over him, sometimes, my apparent superior love and knowledge of cinema. And then while we're waiting in line behind a group of slow slow senior citizens who are being milled into a theater with a/c so they don't fucking die or something, they don't even know what movie they're seeing, I know because I ask one and she says "I think it's about a dysfunctional family" I begin to obnoxiously quiz John about film history while sweat is pouring down me, everywhere, and I use napkins to mop myself up. I ask him when Breathless came out. He says 1959. Which of course he's totally right but I don't shut up. Do you even know who Lazlo Kovacs is, that sort of thing. But then I cool down because we aren't actually late, because of the new reissue of Breathless they run 15 minutes in Kino previews. And I put my hand on John's hand and he forgives me, and we eat tofu and salad from Whole Foods and watch the film.
I have a complicated association with Jean Seberg and with the film. In my ingenue days I used to get the Jean Seberg thing - a LOT - because of my pixie haircut, which I don't have as extreme anymore because my hair is thinning, because of the veganism or stress or just age, it's hard to say, and what's more it's something I cultivated, that gamine look, which is complicated and weird in a way, a desire to look like a girl-boy, like D&G's Alice, the girl who is not a woman, who is somehow free, who is always unnamed, but in reality the girl never can escape, representation or the gaze, her own constant scrutiny, interior mirror, or the outside gaze, and so that illusion of freedom with the charmant pixie is just that, an illusion, the pixie as the descendent of the flapper, with their bobbed hair and sans brassieres, but the flappers were still bound, yes, they were still bound. This is something I felt I had to sort of exorcise and I wrote an entire book about it, my Green Girl, which is now going through a fifth cycle of being read by places, including being sponsored at one place, and the book is in some ways the best thing I've ever written, and one that took me years to write, a novel about exorcising my youth, my being a "girl," when I now am a woman, a not-girl, maybe even a hag, the novel deals explicitly with the subjectivity of the girl mythologized in film and literature, with a girl who is always an actress, and she is a direct send-up of Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse and Breathless and Corinne Marchand in Cleo and the younger Catherine Deneuve, especially in Jacques Demy films, and Edie Sedgwick in Warhol films. But not only are these constant references throughout the novel Ruth my actress, is very conscious of being these actresses, and is always performing in a New Wave film, and everyone thinks of her as an actress. I draw from many scenes in my youth, or really still very recent time, like the time a few years ago the older mathematics professor at the faculty lounge pointed at me and said "Bonjour, Tristesse!" and I lowered my eyes demurely and said, "yes."
I see a sort of feminist narrative running underneath Breathless, a sort of counter-narrative, that I don't know was intended by Godard, but this idea that Jean Seberg as Patricia Francini is always Laura Mulvey's object-to-be-looked-at, I mean both the Seberg girl and Belmondo's thug are incredibly vain and aware of the gaze, of the mirrors, of being these actors, Jean Seberg is the ingenue, the "girl," and Belmondo is Bogart, is the man in the noir, the rebel without a cause. But I wonder if Godard was conscious when making the film how much he makes Patricia a cipher, like a Sophie in Wonderful, Wonderful Times, and shows this blank character who is searching for an identity, for a self outside of men, but is never really able to escape it. She is reflective yes, she is a reflective surface. She wants to write novels, someday, like Faulkner, but she needs to sleep with her editor to write articles, and she must be a muse-baby for the famous novelist in order to get his attention, as he blabbers on this essentialist nonsense about man v. woman. And her self-worth is completely bound up in how others see her, through another's gaze, and like a Jean Rhys heroine part of her only wants a Dior dress (consumer and object of consumption) and the man who loves her, but there's this other part, that's just forming, that is having a complete identity crisis, that is Simone de Beauvoir's woman questioning her immanence, questioning her lack of freedom, wanting something more, feeling dreadfully incomplete. And Seberg's character is always described as the femme fatale, but in a way, at the end, she is choosing not to run off to be the Bonnie to his Clyde, to be his accomplice, perhaps she is starting her own narrative at the end of the film, I don't know.
I think Varda in her Cleo from 5 to 7 is a lot more consciously feminist, having Corinne Marchand realize her emptiness as a pop-star as an object of adoration, of desire, and search for something, to be lost in the crowd, to find an authentic connection, in Varda's film the looming threat of mortality catalyzes Cleo's existential crisis, Varda was inspired by Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge when she made the film, and to me it is quite an existential film, centering around the question of female subjectivity. But actually feminist critics have often found Varda's film not feminist enough, because Cleo reaches no conclusions at the end of the film, she doesn't change, perhaps, enough, some say, and it's interesting too, when my novel was considered at the Feminist Press, that was also a concern, that Ruth didn't have any wild or large epiphanies, she would have a moment perhaps of consciousness of being as Woolf would say and then go and do something seemingly self-destructive like quit another service job or drop Ecstasy or hook up with a stranger she met at a bar. But this is also tied into my interest in this project of the Gurlesque in contemporary poetics - does a feminist work have to show complete empowerment? or perhaps it's more interesting to show the dialectic of female empowerment, how difficult this can be, to show Alice, real Alices not D&G's fictional metaphor, at the bottom of the rabbithole, Alices who continually choose to go to the rabbithole, and why is that?
and then after the film we went to the whole foods for vegan pizza and I recognize a girl I knew back when I lived above a coffeeshop she was a barista and she was working on a book I think a memoir about anorexia or cutting or something...and I of course wanted to write a book a female Infinite Jest, but didn't know how to, and all of the books that were spinning in us, and Patricia Francini's novel...and yet we were still just the characters...Woolf writing Room for the young girls who seem so frightfully depressed...it's who I write to as well, write for, Shakespeare's sisters who don't write who instead go mad or obsessed over some guy or yes lay down on the train tracks at Elephant and Castle....Shakespeare's sisters are my sisters....I wrote for this girl behind the counter, what is the content of her interior monologue? what does she say to us about her vanity and her seriousness?
from Green Girl:
As Ruth crosses the road, she holds her breath and imagines a black mini-cab throttling towards her crashing into her, crushing her calve bones. Ever since she got to London she had developed a morbidity about being suddenly murdered by the masses.
Ruth walks up Oxford Street, tunneling past tourists pushing in and out of high-street clothing stores, past the horns of Selfridge's, the whiff of peanuts from the nearby vendor, moaning softly to herself. Suddenly she lets out a sharp gasp, imagining a hot knife pushing through her ribcage, as a man in a blue jacket presses against her walking by. She feels curious stares warming her.
She stumbles around, outside of herself, looking at them looking at her.
Sometimes she narrates her actions inside her head in third-person. Does that make her a writer or a woman?
The blonde girl walks all nonchalant down the street, hidden by her sunglasses and wan swing of hair, presumably innocent of swiveling eyes. Zoom in, one might see a faraway look.
In the push of the crowd struck by that feeling that she is entirely outside of herself, only faintly aware that she is alive, moving through this world. Sometimes she was struck by how much she went through life almost unconsciously. She is being swept along. She is a pale ghost.
Such a haunting, vacant quality.