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BCB After Dark: Not loving the sequel

The nightspot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks if Jake Arrieta should still be pitching every fifth day.

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: Your favorite late-night hangout for night owls, early-risers, new Parents and Cubs fans abroad. Pull up a seat and bring your own beverage. The floor show will start any minute now. Be sure to tip your waitstaff.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

Last week I asked you about who you thought would win the National League Central. I wanted to see if a month worth of games had changed your mind as to who the favorites is the Central would be from when I asked the same question in May.

And they certainly had. This time, fully 48% of you thought that the Cubs will end up winning another NL Central title. Finishing second in the poll were the Brewers, who got 31% of the voting. When I asked in May, the Cardinals were the runaway favorites with 62% of the vote. This time they finished last (I didn’t ask about the Pirates) with 7%.

The Cubs were shut out by Cleveland tonight, 4-0. Plus, Javier Baez lost track of the number of outs and got pulled by manager David Ross. If you want to continue to discuss tonight’s fiasco, you’re free to do so here. You also need to seek professional help.

Here’s the part where I discuss jazz and movies. Those of you who want to skip to the baseball poll question at the end are free to do so now. You won’t hurt my feelings.

I’m writing enough words tonight without giving you a jazz essay. But I do want you to have something to listen to while you read if you so choose, so here’s the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing “Koto Song” [VIDEO] This song is just sad enough to capture the mood of Cubs fans but not too sad that it’s going to drive us into despair. Hopefully it will calm us all down before we go to sleep, or as we wake in the morning.

They say there are two eras of filmmaking: Before Breathless and after Breathless. Of course, there’s one film that doesn’t fit in either category and that’s Breathless. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 debut film is now sixty years old, but it still seems fresh and innovative. Yet it is also a film that is very much an homage to an earlier form of filmmaking.

I’ve hesitated to write about Breathless (À bout de souffle in French, which translates better as “Out of Breath.”) because I figured that everyone has either already seen it and loved it, already seen it and hated it or have already made a decision not to see the film. Another reason is what can I say about Breathless that hasn’t already been said before and that I can say in about 1500 words? But sometimes it’s good to re-evaluate a classic like this with fresh eyes. Then putting my thoughts down on paper (or pixels) forces me to evaluate my own thoughts. So this essay is as much for me as it is for you.

Breathless is one of the seminal works of the French New Wave, a movement of young French filmmakers who came of age in post-War France. Many of them came from other visual arts, like painting or sculpting, or, like Godard, from writing. Godard had been a film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, the French movie magazine that argued in favor of treating movies as art and not disposable entertainment. Godard’s mentor (and eventual rival), François Truffaut, first made that transition from writing about movies to making movies and he soon brought Godard along with him.

It was Truffaut who first came up with the idea for Breathless, but he eventually abandoned the project. Godard picked it up as his first feature film. Honestly, the film was made for Godard, who worshipped the American film noir genre and the Hollywood gangster film at a time when most critics saw crime movies as cheap, disposable entertainment. As a film critic, Godard had argued that such films were truly art. Now as a filmmaker, he set out to make a film that would combine Hollywood film noir with European art-house sensibilities.

Godard dedicated Breathless to Monogram Pictures, a “Poverty Row” Hollywood Studio that churned out cheap B-pictures through the 1930s and 1940s. That was both a statement of the sensibilities that he was going for as well as an acknowledgment that he was working with the same budget limitations as the directors of those films had worked with.

Breathless is a lot more about style than substance. The plot is thin even for a gangster film. (Spoiler alert, although the film isn’t about plot) Michel is a car thief who steals a car in the south of France. While driving, he discovers a handgun in the glove compartment. He commits a minor traffic violation and then he shoots and kills a motorcycle cop who tries to pull him over.

Michel heads to Paris, where he intends to collect on a debt so he’ll have enough money to go on the lam to Italy. He also wants Patricia, an American student working for the New York Herald-Tribune, to go with him. He and Patricia end up debating life and their relationship before Patricia eventually betrays him. (Spoilers over)

The “hero” of this film. the Frenchman Michel, is a man who sees himself as a Hollywood gangster. He dresses in a tweed jacket, a checkered tie and a fedora. He is never seen without a cigarette. At one point, he checks out a movie theater and looks adoringly at a picture of Humphrey Bogart and the movie poster for Bogart’s final film, The Harder They Fall. He loves American things—American jazz, American movies, big American cars and as we will see, American women. But like Godard, Michel has a love/hate relationship with the United States. At one point Michel says that “You Americans are dumb. You admire Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier. They’re the dumbest of all Frenchmen.”

The American woman that Michel wants to go on the run with him is Patricia, a student and aspiring writer who is working at the Paris offices of the New York Herald-Tribune. Patricia is the opposite of Michel in many ways. She loves European classical music and European painters. She is concerned with fashion and intellectual debate, while Michel thinks most of that stuff is stupid. Whereas Michel is passionate, Patricia is cold.

But in another sense, Michel and Patricia are two sides of the same coin. They’re both really sociopaths, although different kinds. Michel kills a police officer, isn’t concerned about it and doesn’t really understand why anyone else should be. Patricia isn’t a killer in the same sense, but her sense of emotion is all off. She’s cold to the point of being inhuman. When she reveals that she may be pregnant with Michel’s child, she discusses it as if it were her hair appointment the next day. When she finds out that Michel has killed a man, she doesn’t seem to care. Instead, it becomes a test for her, to discover whether she is in love with Michel. She’s not, and I doubt whether Patricia is even capable of love.

As an aside, Patricia speaks French quite well, except that it’s an academic French learned in a classroom and not conversational French. She doesn’t get French slang. This becomes a running gag throughout the film and then an important part of the ambiguity of the famous end of the movie.

To play Michel, Godard got an up-and-coming French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo had appeared in a short film that Godard had made two years earlier, so the two were familiar with each other. He also had a rough-and-tumble look with a large, crooked nose that was the result of an amateur boxing career. He wasn’t attractive, but he was fascinating. (Perhaps I shouldn’t use the past tense. Belmondo is still living.) Belmondo gives Michel a real sense of bravado, but he also gives the audience a real sense of the insecurities that his swagger was hiding. He also has a “live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” attitude that would become a common archetype in films like this one.

In order to get financial backing, Godard looked for the biggest American actress he could find that would work for the budget he had. He landed on Jean Seberg, who was at least famous and could speak French. Unfortunately, she was famous for being “Otto Preminger’s project” after the director picked her out as an amateur from the University of Iowa to star in Saint Joan. Seberg’s performance in that film was roundly savaged by the critics and her next film wasn’t much better received. But she would win universal acclaim for Breathless.

Another aside: You can read up about Seberg’s tragic life if you’re not already familiar with it. She was hounded and smeared by the FBI for her “subversive views.” She blamed the stress from that for a miscarriage she suffered. Many people, including her husband, blamed the miscarriage and the FBI campaign for her suicide. You may want to skip the biopic that came out about Seberg in 2019 that starred Kristen Stewart, however. I would not recommend that picture.

A chunk of the middle of the film has Michel and Patricia together in her hotel room. They talk, they argue, they have sex, and then they talk some more. For people who don’t find their discussion interesting, you’re probably not going to love the picture. Godard wasn’t really working from a script in this film. It wasn’t improvised, but he pretty much wrote the next day’s script after the previous day’s shooting the night before. Then he would read the lines to the actors and then they’d repeat them. Of course, Belmondo and Seberg would change some things. The film has been called a documentary about Belmondo and Seberg in Paris, and that’s not entirely wrong.

As noted earlier, Godard was a film critic before he was a film director. And he has always maintained that his films, including Breathless, were simply movie criticism that he filmed rather than wrote in a magazine. Certainly his portrayal of Michel, the gangster, and Patricia, the femme fatale, were far different looks at these archetypes than we had seen in previous gangster films.

The cinematography by Raoul Coutard and the editing by Godard himself deserve special mention. The production didn’t have the money for sound stages, so everything had to be shot on location, either in the streets of Paris or in any hotel room or house they could get their hands on. That meant that they couldn’t properly light most of the scenes for the film stock they had at the time. Coutard had to use photographic film and find the only camera that could be adapted to work with that. The result is a stark black-and-white contrast that makes things pop. And if you’re looking for beautiful shots of Paris in 1959, you’ll find them here.

Additionally, Coutard had to shoot everything with a hand-held camera, which in 1959, really weren’t all that “hand-held.” They were still big things that usually required a few people to lug around. For the scenes in Patricia’s hotel room, this wasn’t too big a problem, but for tracking shots on the streets of Paris and elsewhere, Coutard had to get creative. He would sit on a box on the seat of a wheelchair. Then Godard would push Cotard along the streets of Paris in the wheelchair to get the tracking shot.

All of this gives Breathless a pseudo-documentary feel. It’s jumpy and disjointed, but Godard manages to make that a virtue rather than distraction. The film is about Michel and Patricia, and this style gives an intimate feel to the whole picture, as if we are voyeurs watching this tragic tale unfold.

The other thing that everyone mentions about Breathless is the editing and in particular, the extensive use of “jump-cuts.” Godard didn’t set out to do this, but when he finished shooting the film was about a half an hour too long. So instead of cutting and/or shortening scenes, he simply took his scissors and removed every dull moment between lines. This technique has been copied a million times since, but it was revolutionary at the time.

(All of the dialogue in the film was looped in over the original performances later, so this sometimes gives a sense of unreality as the actors sometimes start a line in one shot and finish it in the next. It also gives a sense of the unreliability of time.)

Breathless was an international hit, and soon everyone wanted to make the next Breathless. Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands and Pulp Fiction are three films that owe a direct debt to it, but it’s hard to say that any film made after 1960 wasn’t in some way affected by it. The French New Wave eventually led to the New Hollywood, and that changed the entire way that movies were made on both continents.

Here’s the scene where we first meet Patricia [VIDEO] on the streets of Paris. The first time I saw this film with my wife, she said “How can anyone look that good in flats, capris and a T-shirt?” (My wife has an irrational hatred of capri pants, by the way.) But this gives a good sense of the style of the film.

I think that may actually be a sweater she’s wearing, but my wife’s point still stands.

Welcome back to all those who skip the jazz and movies. Except that there’s one thing about movies that most of us can agree on is that the sequel is rarely as good as the original. Sure there are exceptions, but most of the time all the good ideas were used up in the first film.

You could say the same about ballplayers. And unfortunately, the sequel to the “Jake Arrieta in Chicago” movie is not nearly as good as the first. Arrieta’s second stint with the Cubs started out well enough: after his first five starts he was 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA. No one really expected him to continue to pitch that well, but I’m not sure we thought the regression would be as bad as it has been.

Since those first five starts, Arrieta has made seven more, dating back to April 30. In those seven starts, he’s 2-5 with a 7.58 ERA. He’s not fooling many batters, as they’re hitting .310 with a .376 OBP and 12 home runs in 38 innings. The runs allowed are actually a lot worse than that as he’s given up six unearned runs in that time. (He didn’t allow any unearned runs in his first five starts.)

So the question is “Is it time to replace Jake Arrieta in the Cubs rotation?” Arrieta’s final two seasons in Philadelphia weren’t good either and he hasn’t really had a solid season since 2018. He’s only pitched into the sixth inning once since April 30. His velocity, which has been dropping every year since his glory days with the Cubs from 2014 to 2016, is down about another one mile per hour across the board.

On the other hand, Arrieta was pretty good early in the season. Maybe this is something mechanical that he can fix. No one expects him to be 2015 Arrieta again, but the team would certainly be happy 2018 Arrieta.

The other problem is who would take his spot in the rotation? The Cubs are already down a starter with the injury to Trevor Williams. Alec Mills, the most obvious candidate, is already filling in for Williams. That leaves options like Kohl Stewart, who really wasn’t much better than Arrieta has been. Iowa’s Triple-A rotation is a bigger mess than Chicago’s.

On the other hand, there’s always the possibility of going with Keegan Thompson and bullpen games. But that has the possibility of leaving the Cubs bullpen short in other games.

So what is it? Is it time to drop Arrieta from the rotation? It doesn’t have to be permanent. The question isn’t whether or not to release Arrieta. Jake can work some things out from the bullpen and earn his way back to the rotation. On the other hand, he hasn’t pitched as a reliever since 2012 in Baltimore. That may not be the place for him to straighten himself out.


Should the Cubs drop Jake Arrieta from the rotation?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Yes, he’s hurting the team.
    (69 votes)
  • 51%
    No, he’ll straighten out eventually and there’s no one better at the moment.
    (72 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

We’ll see you again tomorrow night with a much, much shorter After Dark.