Part of our ongoing Film Portal series, Sean Duffy takes a look at an early short film by Jean-Luc Godard, All the Boys are Named Patrick, and its critique of American cinema and culture.
All The Boys Are Named Patrick (1957) is an early short film by French-new wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, written by fellow new-waver Eric Rohmer, made before either had breakthrough successes in the 1960s. The short has striking similarities to Godard’s debut feature Breathless and other work, as well as Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series.
In the film, two roommates, Véronique and Charlotte, are pursued and seduced by the same man — Patrick — in a single afternoon in Paris. After comparing each other’s Patricks in competition, the two see Patrick later that day getting into a cab with a third girl and realize they’ve been had by a player.
A motif common throughout Godard’s filmography, especially so in his 1960’s output, is characters obsessed with American culture, and Godard’s own constant critique of it. This is true even in All the Boys are Named Patrick, only his second short film, made three years before Breathless. Véronique and Charlotte, roommates and best friends, cannot seem to go a minute without some mention of American pop-culture. From their dark sunglasses, to describing Patrick as being like various male American movie stars, to the large posters of James Dean and Elvis Presley that run rampant in their apartment, both of the young women are culturally indebted to Hollywood.
The farce that is the plot of Patrick is itself very classic Hollywood comedy. Godard even takes this homage a step further by specifically imitating silent-era comedies. Several sequences in the film appear to have been shot at a lower frame rate, 12FPS or 18FPS giving the film a jumpy, sped-up look when projected at 24FPS . This is akin to the look of silent films that were shot at the same lower frame rate. The film’s score, Beethoven on piano, also alludes back to the atmosphere of an in-theater accompaniment that was commonly used before the advent of soundtracks. However, this is not the kind of cinema Godard wants for France.
Early in the film, after Charlotte is picked up by Patrick, they end up at a street café. They sit at a table in front of a Frenchman who is masqueraded by his giant newspaper that states in bold, “French cinema is dying under the weight of our false legends.” Hidden in the background, this headline can be easily missed, yet when seen clearly, it states the grand argument Godard presents in the film. French cinema is dying because the French are trying so hard to imitate Hollywood. After shooting the couple a few dirty looks, the newspaper man, young and cool, gets up and leaves, clearly visible in the deep focus of the shot.
Later, Patrick ends up at another street café, this time with Charlotte’s roommate Véronique. Another stranger eavesdrops on the conversation, this time an older man who can’t keep his eyes off the couple. Godard cuts to the man three times. In the first two cuts we see the man looking up from an avant-garde looking French magazine. Later, almost two minutes later in fact, Godard cuts back to the man again and we see him reading a new magazine with Donald Duck on the cover.
Godard uses both these men as symbols of contemporary French attitudes. The newspaper man — young, pessimistic, and full of attitude — is a stand in for Godard and his contemporaries. The older man is a stand in for the older generation of French who have set the country’s current tastes for mimicry. They are drawn in by the banal romanticism of American culture, and end up craving the even more lackluster French imitations, personified by Véronique and Patrick’s scene at the table across the way.
Still alive and making innovative and cut-throat films, such as last year’s acclaimed Goodbye To Language 3D, Godard has a deep love of cinema, as well as a continuing contempt for its present state. This duality is especially true for Godard’s view of American cinema, which his work often seems to both imitate and make fun of. Like Breathless or Pierrot Le Fou’s twists on the crime thriller and gangster genres, All the Boys are Named Patrick is Godard’s swipe at farcical comedy, created with equal parts love and sneer.
Watch All the Boys are Named Patrick on YouTube.
Author: Sean Duffy is a writer, filmmaker, and performer. Last year, New City Magazine named him one of the “Top Five Emerging Chicago Poets of 2014”. He has one of those website things. This autumn he is the Marketing Assistant Intern at Facets.