Film Club 2: Film Club Breeds Contempt

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It’s 00.31 here and I’m posting this early so maybe there’ll be some comments in the morning before I go to work…

Side-note: it’s weird how some titles are known in translation and some in their original languages. In the case of Godard’s LE MEPRIS, that’s what we call it in the UK, even though we don’t generally know what that word means, and in the US it’s always called CONTEMPT, which makes more sense, I’d say. Anyhow –

This is a film that I sort-of knew, in that received wisdom kind of way, and having seen lots of clips and maybe having caught half an hour or so of it here and there. Which is NO GOOD. So Film Club serves a valuable function, for me at least, in nudging me into actually watching the damn thing. Thanks to David Ehrenstein for the suggestion.

My Jean-Luc Godard issues: I think as a kid, getting into films, I probably caught a mixed bag of his movies, some of which intrigued but some of which alienated, and not in a good way. My attempts to build up a resistance are only now paying off. I always liked ALPHAVILLE, I now like BAND A PARTE and UNE FEMME MARIEE, and a few others. And I sort-of like WEEKEND and SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and a few others. Recently, his episode of TEN MINUTES OLDER was really strong. And I’m intrigued to re-see some of the stuff that put me off. If I can remember what it was. The stuff that was like slide-shows, you know.

But CONTEMPT isn’t like that — critic Jonathan Romney has called it the only Godard film you could possibly shed a tear to, which seemed like it could be interesting, engaging and possibly so atypical of JLG that I won’t get any closer to liking him as a whole, but I like a good weepie, so here we go (rolls up sleeves) –

The opening shot shows a camera sliding towards us on tracks, “exposing the mechanisms of cinema” in a way that’s not too Brechtian really, since the movie is about movie-making, so the camera’s appearance is narratively “legitimate.” Love the way the camera turns to face us with its cyclopean eye, the widescreen matte-box around it forming a frame within the frame. It’s echoed by many more frames-within-frames, like this –

Georges Delerue doesn’t get the love he deserves, I feel. His score for this film is typically lush and emotional, only slightly counterbalanced by Godard’s tendency to repeat it until we become rather more aware of it than would be normal. And the theme obstinately refuses to develop, so we’re on the verge of some catharsis with these unbearably gorgeous strings playing, but we never quite reach it. Somehow that makes it even more paifully moving.

Also, spoken word credits — I always approve of these. Welles, of course, has the best, aided by the fact that he’s got the best voice to deliver them with. It’s unfair, really: nobody else can compete. In FAHRENHEIT 451, Truffaut uses spoken credits because the written word is outlawed. Here, the movie is based on a book (Alberto Moravia — anyone read it?) and the hero is a writer, so the absence of onscreen text is more allusive and mysterious. It might be something to do with the powerlessness of the writer in this world of images…

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Godard then wisely proceeds directly to Brigitte Bardot’s naked ass, thus ensuring at least some of his audience will stay to the end. Jesus Franco once used the example of the nudity in this film, and the fact that JLG said he’d included it for commercial reasons, to basically justify his entire career. I do like some Franco, but his argument does not entirely convince me. As to this nude scene, what’s unusual and fun about it is the way BB is talking about her body while the camera shows it: nudity is redoubled. It’s kind of a titillation/sexploitation scene, but her aimless prattling does have enough naturalistic value to give it another quality: it’s like a gentle parody of how women do sometimes talk. (Is this going to get me in trouble?) The most affectionate scene in the film.

Perhaps feeling that the scene was too simple, Godard spices it up with heavy colour filtration, which clicks off midway, leaving natural skin tones and a sudden renewed sense of nudity. It’s been said that Godard marks each part of the filmmaking process: his art exposes rather than conceals art, drawing our attention to script, performance, composition, lighting, design, editing, music and sound. This may be why so many filmmakers love him — he exploits the beauty of the unfinished, using rough edges that normally only the maker gets to see. And yet, Godard’s work has another kind of beauty, directly opposed to the first –

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Off to the screening room! A particularly pleasing one, with its blue chairs. Why does Godard use such lovely bright hues? I’ve never read an attempt at explanation of that — we can simply accept it as being just the kind of thing he likes, and agree with him that the intense slabs of flat colour make for beautiful graphics, but I’d be very interested in a theory that added to that. Minnelli being the filmmaker most referenced here, in the dialogue about SOME CAME RUNNING and the film’s relationship to TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (I think Godard’s referred to it as his sequel), we could draw on Minnelli’s decision to make SCR look like “the inside of a jukebox,” but I don’t feel like JLG is trying to create a visual critique of society in this way: it would be more accurate to say he’s making the world look beautiful the way he wants it to.

But perhaps the colours have symbolic value? Again, theories welcome. We might produce a colour chart to hand out with future copies of the DVD. Red certainly = violence, as in the car crash, whereas the cool blue of the sea takes on tragic connotations…

Jack Palance and Fritz Lang and Giorgia Moll. Palance and Lang’s first scene is possibly their best. Palance using a film can as a discus is a nice moment, and his moronically gleeful reactions to the sight of a nude “mermaid” in Lang’s footage are priceless. Moll is charming but contradictory: she exchanges literary quotes with Lang, but allows Palance to sign a cheque on her back. Godard’s objectification of women — and the word is peculiarly accurate with him — is one of the things that’s creeped me out about him in the past. The body-part portraiture in UNE FEMME MARIEE is beautiful and rather tender, but the headless shots of a nude Bardot that come later on in this film seem glossy but brutal. Moll is part character, part plot function (translator) and part furniture, it seems.

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Feminist theory might call this shot dehumanizing. But that’s definitely a human arse. But it’s certainly depersonalizing, and that’s something Godard has been guilty of a lot. But not consistently — Bardot’s character is also a character, not just a shapely figure. She’s mysterious, which I sometimes feel is a get-out clause for directors who don’t regard women as people, with comprehensible motivations the same as men, but it’s also a legitimate response to the problem of communication: other people are unknowable. LE MEP definitely falls more on the legitimate side of this divide.

Moll’s interpreter character was apparently Godard’s device to stop the Americans dubbing the movie: Moll repeats what Palance says in English, in French, and what Piccoli says in French, in English. The distributors dubbed the film anyway, so Moll now became a strange person who follows people around repeating or rephrasing whatever they say. Godard’s Parrot. I’d love to see that version.

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Palance, whose presence evokes Hollywood and THE BIG KNIFE, is a pretty broad caricature of the vulgar producer. LE MEPRIS was co-produced by Joe Levine, who made his fortune with the Steve Reeves HERCULES. Palance plays Jerry Prokosch, producer of THE ODYSSEY.

Lang, as gracious and stately as most people found him in later life (he was much less of a gentleman when actually directing movies, by all accounts), is the film’s August Presence, the representative of art — we don’t gain much confidence in Piccoli as a writer, Palance represents the ugliness of commerce, Bardot is a typist, but Lang’s genius is to be taken as read. The shots we see from his movie (they’re already shooting it? The production process here doesn’t seem to make sense) are not actually Langian, and they’re certainly the kind of artsy stuff that would have got any director on a Greek myth sword-and-sandal epic shown the door, but they’re very pretty. When Godard cuts in shots of the Greek statues later on, interrupting the story of marital breakup, the effect is poetic, mysterious, and slightly chilling.

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Back to that colour: the film has no credited art director, but do we believe that JLG bought all the coloured chairs and props and towels himself? The design is certainly his in conception, and you can see it expressed in his other movies, very consistently, even in their credits. But somebody must have helped. The IMDb lists one Pierre Guffroy as production designer (uncredited) on PIERROT LE FOU, which has a matching Technicolor look (remember Belmondo’s painted face at the end?), perhaps he should be investigated?

Outside the cinema, Palance offers Bardot a ride and Piccoli urges her to accept it. There’s a slight sense that he’s pimping her out, or at least trying to curry favour with his new boss. Bardot appears reluctant, Piccoli insists, and for the rest of the movie she resents him. The question of what actually happened during the half hour when Piccoli and Bardot were apart is never answered, making this one of the most important and infuriating narrative ellipses in all cinema. It’s vaguer than the Marabar Caves scene in EM Forster’s A Passage to India. (They should have put that on the poster. “Vaguer than Forster!”)

Love the fast cuts of Bardot, jumping from scene to scene — this seems to evoke memory and Poccoli’s character’s subjectivity more strongly than any other scene. JLG is basically inventing Nic Roeg here.

The big sequence in Piccoli and Bardot’s half-furnished flat is the bit that apparently drove The New Republic‘s Stanley Kauffman berserk, as he imagined Godard’s fans gasping: “‘That film must cost so-and-so many thousands of dollars a minute! Any commercial hack would be concerned to make each minute count for something. But Jean-Luc doesn’t care!’ The hidden referent here is not aesthetic but budgetary bravado.” It’s always dangerous to imagine what a film’s fans are admiring and then attack it for that — it puts a filter between critic and film that’s even thicker than Godard’s red gel.

In fact, while the protracted semi-breakup in the apartment is challenging in its duration, there are no dead moments in it, and it’s all informed by the drama of Piccoli’s plight and the mystery of Bardot’s behaviour. Piccoli’s behaviour is pretty obnoxious, but more straightforwardly motivated. After The Mysterious Event in the Marabar Caves, he leches after Moll, as if to revenge himself for Palance’s presumed depredations. Bardot catches him, and for a while he assumes that’s what she was mad at. But her frostiness towards him predates that infelicitous discovery. He also assumes the problem has to do with money, and the flat they’re buying and decorating. But we get no sense that he’s right here.

Piccoli slapping Bardot is a nasty moment, and a problematic one (but with Godard, “problematic” = interesting). I’m reminded of my friend Simon’s remarks, after viewing TWO FOR THE ROAD (a considerably lesser sixties relationship movie, I think we can agree) that Albert Finney’s character was incredibly obnoxious and arrogant. “But men were like that then,” his mum informed him. I don’t get any sense that Godard approves of Piccoli’s bit of domestic violence, but he sees no reason to step in and offer his editorial judgement on it.

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Bardot dons wig. If we associate red with aggression and Palance, her choice of apparel may be telling us something here. But Piccoli, despite being a playwright, isn’t adept in the interpretation of toweling. He needs a towelomancer.

Richard Brody, in his much-criticized JLG bio, seems to suggest that many of Godard’s films are not only direct commentaries on his relationship with partner and sometime star Anna Karina, but actual admonitions to her, attempts to keep her in line, or something. The rather unsympathetic portrayal of Piccoli in this film would seem to argue against that, unless we’re going to accept Godard as an insensitive clod who thinks the Piccoli character is actually behaving well. While I’m willing to believe bad things about JLG, I don’t buy that one.

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Split-screen effects created by architecture of flat seem like a clear influence on LAST TANGO IN PARIS. Bertolucci may have symbolically “killed” Godard in THE CONFORMIST, but the influence lingers. Godard’s widescreen enhances his ability to break up the frame like this. The wide-angle lens causes some rubber-walling distortion which gets in the way of his graphic flatness, but it’s not a significant issue. The white walls bounce the light around which helps them film on a location with real daylight as source. Reflected light is not flattering to the complexion, but when you’ve got somebody as smooth as BB (like porcelain yet more elastic) you can get away with it.

Weirdly ugly (in this ravishingly beautiful  film) scene in a barn-like Italian cinema, reverberant music, which Godard jump cuts around the conversation. Cinema screen is brown. Afterwards, Lang quotes Berthold Brecht, calling him “BB.” An acceptable in-joke which could pass in a regular movie, but the fact that Bardot laughs at it is genuinely Brechtian — her character is called Camille, it’s the actress herself who’s known as BB.

Incidentally, isn’t BB good in this? Here and in Clouzot’s LA VERITE you see a very capable performer playing two very contrasting characters with the same set of distinct physical qualities, but her pouty beauty counts for something different in each film. The moment here where she aggressively shoos Piccoli out of the bedroom when her mum calls is a favourite: completely naturalistic and kinda funny. Piccoli also disappears into his role with unshowy grace, but he’s not as cute.

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Capri! Where Palance’s villa, a bizarre structure, has a set of stairs that allows Lang to craft some genuinely Langian compositions. Again Piccoli urges BB to take a ride with Palance, this time by boat. Discussing Palance’s moronic “re-imaging” of the Odyssey with Lang (Ulysses takes ten years to return to Penelope because he’s just not that into her) Piccoli, perhaps by accident, hits on what may be the truth about Bardot’s attitude to him (which she has now given a name: Contempt). By refusing to eject the suitors, Ulysses emasculates himself in Penelope’s eyes. So then he has to kill them. Lang tells him that that would solve nothing.

The subsequent death of Palance and Bardot in a car accident seems like a flat narrative contrivance — this movie may have more of a conventional story than most Godards, but it’s still not his primary interest, I feel — but all is redeemed by the unbelievable lovely end shot, where Godard’s camera intersect its path with Lang’s, a sort of reverse-angle of the opening shot where the two lenses met and “kissed.” Godard/Lang stare out at the infinity of the sea, as a sinister voice pronounces “Silencio,” through a megaphone. David Lynch makes a mental note.

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55 Responses to “Film Club 2: Film Club Breeds Contempt”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    A very good beginning David.

    I’d like to add some additonal points about Bardot and Palance. First, perhaps Louis Malle’s A PRIVATE LIFE (sic?) should be added to the list of better Bardot films. It has been years since I saw it on UK TV but I think it is about a star whose privacy is constantly invaded and she only gains her private space in death. From what i remember, it was an accomplished performance.

    Secondly, on your association with Palance and THE BIG KNIFE. He is certainly Godard’s version of Stanley Hoff but you must also remember the villain roles he began to play after that most notably Attila the Hun in Douglas Sirk’s SIGN OF THE PAGAN where he undergoes an early version of Robert Stack’s male hysteria from WRITTEN ON THE WIND, though marred by a silly cold War religious explanation. Palance could also play villains with a highly tuned sense of low-key menace and he brings this quality into play here.

  2. Arthur S. Says:

    Good piece.

    I haven’t read Alberto Moravia’s IL DISPREZZO. In the Tom Milne translated GODARD ON GODARD, JLG is dismissive of the book saying it’s good to read on a train. He also then adds that since anything filmed is automatically more real than anything written there’s little reason to change anything. So according to most observers, CONTEMPT is very faithful to the book. But there is one crucial difference. In the book the German director is described as a relic of the Weimar Era who never made it to the level of the Pabsts and Langs. Like Karl Freund I guess. Godard changed that by casting a titan of cinema like Lang in that role, making him the only voice of reason in this film. He represents the spirit of the ancients in this world of confused and confusing moderns. Whereas in the novel, he’d be just as adrift as the rest.

    The footage of THE ODYSSEY was shot by Godard himself. And…it’s quite bad overall. The kitsch element of it was a hommage to Lang’s Indian Epic which is a very geometric, stylized take on that story. The blue eyed man is NEPTUNE, enemy of Ulysses(Posiedon in Greek Myth) and the red eyed lady is Minerva(Athena for the Greeks) who is Ulysses’ protector. The ironic thing is that Odysseus is prized for his wisdom and intelligence(and arrogance) qualities which Paul Javal is totally lacking in.

    I don’t think there is any real “reason” for her contempt. It’s just something that has accumulated over time as it does in any marriage but the breaking point is when he pimps her to Prokosch and…that may not be his intent but that’s what she feels and he is insensitive to that. The ellipsis is very Antonionian in that sense, because it obfuscates the moment of dramatic change.

    One scene I like in the apartment scene is one moment in the bathroom where she smiles at her husband and he looks at her and asks “is that tenderness or are you being sarcastic?” she then gives him a sarcastic smile. The problem is that they don’t have a simplicity to their relationship. Lang talks about the insanity of projecting modern neurosis on the simplicity and unaffected nature of the ancient heroes.

  3. Blue-eyed male statue = the head in Boorman’s ZARDOZ?

    My sense is that Godard’s madmouthing of the Moravia novel is a fairly standard example of a director’s taking what’s good in the source material and then dismissing it after the fact. Like Lester dissing “Me and the Arch Kook Petulia,” which I believe was rather better than he’d have us think.

    Photo of the BB cul is very nice, but … let me express a little gratitude for what you show of Piccoli and his “Some Came Running” chapeau.

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    ———————————————-
    Richard Brody, in his much-criticized JLG bio, seems to suggest that many of Godard’s films are not only direct commentaries on his relationship with partner and sometime star Anna Karina, but actual admonitions to her, attempts to keep her in line, or something.
    ———————————————-

    Brody is to Jean-Luc what Spoto is to Alfred. Needless to say the former thinks highly of the latter’s scholarship on his subject. That said he can be a perceptive film critic and his book is hugely informative on Godard’s production methods, just that his assertions need to be qualified. Most of his pieces are usually this is a personal film because so and so happened in the director’s personal life. He’s actually critical of LES 400 COUPS because Truffaut wasn’t honest enough in that film about how much of a punk he was.

    CONTEMPT may be about the Godard-Karina relationship and Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests that Camille wearing the black wig is a reference to Anna Karina. And Michel Piccoli said that his suit and hat were actually Godard’s. But I think it’s more in the sense of self-criticism than actual “admonitions”. No artist got far in admonishing and Godard regardless of his wounded male pride and his flaws was capable of that honesty that made him a great artist.

    I also see it as more of a reference to the fact that he’s casting Brigitte Bardot, big sexy international star into the roles that Anna Karina plays. It’s really the most blatant of miscasts because Camille’s an ex typist who had a powerful romance with this artist type only to face disillusionment and he casts this sex kitten star in that role. A role that would suit Anna Karina’s down to earth charm better. But Godard makes Bardot’s impossible glamour work for that part and she’s natural and earthy in her role in a way that she was never anywhere else.

    Delerue’s music is like nothing else in cinema, amazingly painful and beautiful to listen to(the exception is the ugly jazz for the Nausicaa auditions which as you note is the ugliest part of the film). Scorsese sampled the Camille theme for CASINO. Georges Delerue is as close to an official New Wave composer as you can get(the other competitor was of course Michel Legrand) and later Bertolucci got him to do the music for IL CONFORMISTA which is also very lush but less intense than CONTEMPT.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    Alberto Moravia(who was also a great film critic, like an Italian Graham Greene) admired the film and later told Bertolucci that the only two movie adaptations of his books he liked was CONTEMPT and IL CONFORMISTA.

    Truffaut is one exception to this because he always had good things to say about Henri Pierre Roche whose reputation he helped restore or David Goodis(he was the one who gave Godard the book that became BAND OF OUTSIDERS). The one single exception is Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 which he claimed not to have read. He said that the idea for the film came when he had a discussion with a friend about science fiction and why Truffaut thought most of it was bland and derivative and his pal told him about how great F451 was and Truffaut immediately said, “I’ve got to make this movie.”

    Altman later dissed the book that sourced MASH accusing it of being dated and even racist. Aldrich hated Mickey Spillane and made KISS ME DEADLY as a critique of his ethos. Vidor apparently liked Ayn Rand but she didn’t like his THE FOUNTAINHEAD and he certainly makes the hysteria of the Ayn Rand world objective for the audience to see and laugh at for themselves.

  6. Contempt and The Conformist are the only Moravia adaptations I’m even aware of, so some kind of historical justice may have won out.

    Lester slammed the books of Petulia and How I Won the War for being dishonest. He doesn’t so much talk about their literary quality (big chunks of dialogue from HIWTW turn up verbatim in the film) but his line that Petulia “was a book by a San Francisco dentist” is rather dismissive. The novelist seems to have attacked the film first.

    Having just watched Love Letters (bizarre) I’m interested to run The Fountainhead now.

    The use of music in Le Mepris reminded me slightly of the train scene in The Conformist — unbelievably romantic and soaring music on a scene that… isn’t that romantic.

    I wonder who Moravia is thinking of, since it’s not Lang. Could be Ulmer, who was making Italian movies around this time: Hannibal and L’Atlantide (which I’ve just seen and must write about) except he was never a director in Weimar Germany; or Dieterle, who made Volcano in Italy; Siodmak, who I think made Italian co-productions… Of course, he probably didn’t mean anybody that specifically.

    Camille is very clear that her feelings for Paul changed, and all at once, so I think the Antonioniesque ellipse is the key moment. The other ellipse is his taxi accident which delays him, an event we never get to see so we don’t know if he’s lying. Maybe he’s deliberately late, in which case he really is pimping his girlfriend out.

    I’ve only ever seen A Private Life in a ludicrous dubbed pan-and-scan, so I haven’t really seen it at all. But it’s certainly one of Bardot’s more respectable efforts, she seems to have had an interest in working with good directors.

    Clouzot: “I need an actress, not an amateur!”
    Bardot: “And I need a director, not a psychopath!”

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    Lang: I love Lang here–unruffled, intellectual, distingue, cool. Was Lang ever really like this, or is he playing Godard’s idealized conception of Lang? He’s the polar opposite of Robinson’s sour, dyspeptic character in TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN.

    HATARI!: the poster for Hawks’s hunting epic crops up more than any other one. Why? The posters on the walls at Cinecitta aren’t for films made there (i.e. PSYCHO), so why are they there?

    Nick Ray: BB’s indifference to film in general (except when she’s flattering Lang with very generic praise of M) makes her somewhat contemptible. Who could ever be interested in a woman who is not interested in BIGGER THAN LIFE, unless she would be willing to be “educated” on the Cahier crowd’s fave auteurs? Her willfulness on this score makes her very uncool.

    Delerue: if anyone sheds a tear at LE MEPRIS, it would be because of the music–the ravishing beauty of which is deliberately excessive, Brechtian. It even drowns out the “inventory” (blazon) of BB’s body in the opening scene. Godard calls attention to the power of “lush” string-based music in romantic/erotic scenes to hold it up for cold analysis: yes, we are manipulated by music like this in countless films. Now we should be aware of it.

  8. Arthur S. Says:

    According to Peter Bogdanovich, the real Lang was a lot like the Contempt Lang on his good days. In his bad days, he could be manipulative and rude. Godard simply elected to show the best of Lang and I don’t see any reason why he should have done the opposite. It’s a great performance(even if he is, yes, playing himself) and the final moment when he tells Paul “to always finish what you start” suggests a man at peace with the world’s elegant indifference to human endeavor. Whether that’s true of the real Lang is up for debate.

    Bardot initially talks about her love for RANCHO NOTORIOUS and only when Lang says, “I prefer M” does she affirm her admiration for that film. As for Camille’s indifference to the fact that “Derriere le Mirroire” by Nicolas Ray is playing in theatres, she clearly has other things on mind and all hubby boy can offer is silly cinephile prattle.

    One poster that intrigued me is a poster for what looks like the Italian version of Vivre sa Vie. I don’t see anything deeper needed to be read in the HATARI! or PSYCHO posters aside from the fact that they were popular contemporary films still playing in theatres at that time and Godard liked it. Whereas the Mankiewicz/Minnelli/Rossellini references have more to do with the movie’s structure.

  9. Oh, how I love this film, despite its flaws. The book is very good indeed, and the film is surprisingly faithful to it. But the addition of Lang to the movie puts it ahead, for me. The urbane, eye-patched Austrian making this mad, pretentious-looking pseudo-masterpiece with a straight face…

    The motivations of all of the characters in the book is made quite clear, so I wonder if that made their behaviour in the film seem rather more straightforward than it would have otherwise seemed.

  10. Eye-patch? I mean monocle. Argh, I’m off to bed.

  11. Arthur S. Says:

    According to Tom Milne, the reason is that the book is narrated in first person by Paul Javal while Godard’s is objective and omniscient. According to him, the film creates greater ambiguity than the novel by suggesting that Paul did intend to pimp his wife. Godard said that the film was about characters observing and judging each other and they are in turn observed and judged by cinema, represented by Lang who is the only one above reproach.

    Lang did wear an eye patch in his final years, under his monocle!!!! Joining the august Cyclopean company of Ford, DeToth, Walsh and Nicholas Ray. See Scorsese’s documentary on American cinemas which features interview clips with all the patch people(almost as a running gag).

    I just re-read Godard on Godard where he offers a brief overview of his intent for CONTEMPT. He said that he would play the first AD and he shot the footage for the film-within-the-film but that Lang would say that his second unit shot it. I don’t think that line of dialogue made it into the final cut but it makes sense to see that footage as second unit screen tests rather than the actual film. It explains the ugliness of the footage for certain.

  12. David Boxwell Says:

    The outtakes/rushes/tests of the “Odyssey” remind me most of the aesthetic of Jarman’s SEBASTIANE.

    SOME CAME RUNNING: Godard and Piccoli had the same hair. Piccoli’s alopecia only nakedly revealed for two seconds in a deft hat swap. It’s shocking. His scalp is hidden in shadow in the opening love scene.

    VOYAGE In ITALY: another prominent poster indicating still more intertextual meditation/mediation.

  13. I don’t think there’s any ambiguity. Paul IS pimping out his wife — which inspires her contempt for him. The thing is he does theis reflexively — thoughlessly. Godard is criticizing straight male sexual ego. And he doesn’t let himself off the hook. Godard went to protitutes constantly. They figure in his films in all sorts of ways (formally in Vivre sa Vie, but interestingly in passing in Une Femme est Une Femme and L’eloge d’amour as well.) he regards male-female relationships as a monteary-andtherefore-power exchange.

    I think Godard was joshing about Moravia’s novel. Le Mepris in narrative terms is scrupulously faithful to it. Cinematic terms are created by Godard — specifically in the central apartment argument scene.

    Bardot is indeed teriffic in this. It’s easily her best, most complex performance. Being a star, and knowing how to use her star power she’ pulls off what would for any other actress be incredibly complex mood shifts with exquisite elegance and tact (qualities that have totally deserted her over the past 30 years.)

    Yes the wig is a reference to Vivre sa Vie and aspects of the arguement in th apartment are clearly Godard vs. Karina.

    The opening scene, BTW, came about as an afterhthought. Joe Levine complained that there wasn’t enough nude Bardot — so Godard gave it to him POW! It’s an amzingly audacious bit of cinematic brashness, totally fed by the myth of Bardot as explicated by Simone de Beauvoir.

    Delerue’s score is the ULIMATE film music. When I asked Marty about his sputting it into Casino he said “I just couldn’t resist any longer!”

    In many ways my life as a critic began with Le Mepris and the conversations I had with Marty about it. I had neevr discussed a film in detail with anyone else before. And Le Mepris was certainly designed for discussion.

  14. Yeah, I wondered if baldness was part of the reason for Piccoli’s constant hat. Piccoli is obviously fine with being bald (he has enough body hair to stuff a mattress anyway, he must be 98% testoterone) but maybe the character is self-conscious, and maybe that reflects Godard?

    I quite like the footage of the Odyssey, apart from the mermaid who looks a bit amateur. Obviously it’s not Langian at all, but it doesn’t look like it’s trying. But I would watch that movie!

    I *think* Lang wore the eyepatch on one eye and the monocle on the other. He was reall going blind at the end, hence his retirement. What had been his bad eye ended up the better of the two.

    Forrest J Ackerman tried to give Lang the money for an eye op, but there was nothing that could be done.

    There are intriguing plays with subjectivity in the film. We see things more through Paul, but we don’t see his actions during the missing half-hour either. We gets snatches of VO from both characters, but BB’s lines sound rather literary and not like anything she’d say: Paul’s imagination?

    As for her lack of interest in film, she’s genuinely keen on Rancho Notorious and polite about M. Her lack of interest in Bigger Than Life is down to her lack of enthusiasm for anything Paul recommends at that time.

    A little bird tells me that the colour filters in scene one evoke the French flag, since the Bardot derriere was a national treasure. I’m not sure if that’s something anybody could guess, but now I sound like Palance: “That’s fine for you and me, Fritz, but will the audience understand?”

  15. Wonderful! Been away for a while, but I’ll try to contribute to film club in the future. It’s been too long since I’ve watched Contempt, but one of my favorite bands wrote a song about it, so I keep its memory alive.

    Grab it here:
    http://deeperintomovies.net/silkworm/

    Lyrics:

    Do you like my thighs and my feet?
    Oh yes my dear, you’re heavenly
    You’re the finest girl to ever visit Capri
    It’s the last time I’ll ever leave home
    Because my memory is here in Rome
    But now I’m loose after a vicious afternoon

    I used to think you were a man
    American turned the screw
    Keep away from me, I’ll keep away from you

    That American seems so strange
    His face, it wears a rictus of pain
    But his villa is large, and he’s hired Fritz Lang
    If I read Homer I wouldn’t be bored
    But that American thinks he’s a god
    I wonder what’s wrong with a Technicolor world

    And when he took you from under my nose
    You loved me less than his money
    I’ll keep away from you, you keep away from me

    My last word is softly “contempt”
    And I’ll leave with him soon
    Keep away from me, I’ll keep away from you

  16. Arthur S. Says:

    In terms of Godard’s career, CONTEMPT is interesting because it stands apart from his 60s films in a lot of ways. His films were low budget, shot very quickly, save for UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME in black and white and then he makes this mainstream film in vivid pastels and then after that, he goes right back to his earlier style – Bande A Part, Une Femme Mariee, Alphaville and then returns with colour in PIERROT LE FOU and then after that stayed in colour save for MASCULIN-FEMININ. It’s quite brave because usually the thing to do is move on further and further, Godard did it his way.

    Wonder if that has ever happened that right at the tip of entering a mainstream, a director returned to his roots. And I think Contempt was a hit so he might have had a choice.

    Godard’s films of the 60s are interesting because they are full of this beauty, the beauty of the possibilities of cinema and life. I think people who accuse Godard of misanthropy are wrong because even if he doesn’t allow you to identify with his characters or doesn’t show them in terms of conventional dramaturgy their presence and humanity is what makes his films alive. So even at Godard’s most pessimistic(like say, PIERROT or even WEEKEND), the form and the approach to the actors is the counterbalance to that.

    I can’t say I find his films depressing, even CONTEMPT which is about the seeming impossibility of male-female relationship is exhilarating because the form itself is so sensual and alive.

  17. David Boxwell Says:

    Politics: Interesting that Godard is “notorious” for moving to the extreme left, while Bardot has attracted notoriety for her reactionary homophobic and anti-immigrant statements. It is she (and her animal rights activism is all of a part in this personal evolution) who has become the misanthrope.

    Paul’s indifference to Camille-as-Karina is almost comical. He is too involved in his own “dressing up.” But Godard is surely re-enacting a lot of personal pain up there on the screen.

    Another intertextual possibility: Vadim’s ET DIEU CREA LA FEMME (56). Which also starred Bardot’s perfect “fesses.”

  18. One of my very favourite films and a nice appreciation! I’ll just add a couple of notes:

    - I always assumed that this was where Truffaut got the spoken word credits for Fahrenheit 451 from (though they are also a good fit for the material he is working with as well)

    - I was also a bit flummoxed by that opening sequence in the bedroom but the commentary on the Criterion helped out a lot: the colour does not click off midway though, instead it is a natural white light – red, white and blue are the colours of two of the countries involved in the production of the film France and the US. So it is kind of a joke aimed at the producers requesting extra Bardot nudity (much as the book over Bardot’s bottom is later on), and as the commentary mentions it is placed at the very start of the film so it doesn’t really interfere with the characters in any way – Bardot is not yet Camille, Piccoli is not yet Paul.

    - The Moll character is totally ruined in the English dubbed version, though the other damaging aspect is that the score is lowered and plays under all the dialogue in a classical manner, rather than rising up to drown out the banalities the characters say to one another as originally intended.

    - Another fun part of the commentary is that the bathroom sequence in the apartment is suggested as being Godard’s version of a costume epic and maybe a dig at Cleopatra. See that picture you have of Bardot in a towel/toga sitting on a modern day throne! This also highlights one of the major themes of the film: classical thinking and artifacts set against the way they are being translated into a modern environment (often not entirely successfully, or in an ironic manner).

    - Bardot is absolutely amazing in this, though everyone else is too. That death of Palance and Bardot in the car crash I feel was intended to play as a flat narrative contrivance. Camille herself has her finest moment in the scene just before where she strips naked to go swimming while Paul watches and disappears off into the ocean – that is her grand gesture of ending the relationship, although the letter she leaves is the physical manifestation of that ending. However Paul cannot accept that as an ending to the relationship, and instead twists it in his imagination (i.e. the sound of the car crash takes place while the camera pans across Camille’s note) into a bloody death for Camille, and incidentally he gets to kill off the megalomaniac producer while he’s at it! To me it is an ending that betrays how little Paul cares for Camille, and at the same time suggests just how much of a hack writer he may also be!

    Then there’s that wonderful final sign off between Picolli and Lang though – one must always finish what one begins.

  19. Sorry I just realised that you mention the French flag thing in the credits! So I’ll add the other “that’s fine for you and me, but will the audience understand?” in joke that I learned from Robert Stam’s commentary. Palance’s producer Jeremiah Prokosh shares the initials of two of the producers – the ‘J’ from Joseph Levine and the ‘P’ from Carlo Ponti.

  20. Also he has the same initials as Jack Palance! Godard likes his codes.

    I love your interpretation of the car crash, that turns it into a masterstroke for me. It’s also a very nice shot. In the preceding scene there’s a tiny figure in red watching the action from the embankment: maybe this is Piccoli, authoring the scene in his imagination? We need somebody to watch it on a bigger screen than I have here.

    The pan across the gigantic magnified letters of Camille’s note must have influenced Taxi Driver — we know from David E that Scorsese’s a fan.

    I asked writer Ben Halligan why blonde actresses get into animal welfare in their middle years — Julie Christie narrated The Animanl Film, while Susan George does aromatherapy for horses, bless her. He said, “Because they’ve already seen everything men have to offer, and it’s not enough!”

    Even if Godard is misanthropic about his central couple here, as well as Palance and (sometimes) Moll, his affection for Lang comes across.

  21. Arthur S. Says:

    That pan across the letter is a homage to CITIZEN KANE where William Alland is reading through Thatcher’s papers and the camera pans across the ecriture and slowly dissolves into the unhappy home of the Kanes.

    It’s also there in Bresson’s PICKPOCKET which was a Schrader influence(though Scorsese doesn’t seem keen on Bresson). CONTEMPT’s clearest influence seems to be on NEW YORK NEW YORK and even moreso on LIFE LESSONS where again an apartment plays a key dramatic role in the conflict and which also uses blue filters for an erotic scene(Rosanna Arquette said that was the sexiest she had ever looked on screen).

    Incidentally Godard told Scorsese over lunch that he loved ”New York New York” and that the film was about the insecurity in any relationship between creative people, the jealousies, the rivalry and the give and take which inflicts pain in the relationship. Godard certainly seemed to speak from personal experience. And Scorsese said that he didn’t understand what that meant at that time exactly, though he did eventually. Though he seems to have settled down at last, as has Godard who’s hooked up with Anne Marie Mieville with whom it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life.

    Scorsese is as compulsive a film quoter as Godard and as such I think you’ll find more nods to Godard and Truffaut and Co. than people will give credit for. The most obvious one is TAXI DRIVER’s slow close-up to th pill dissolving in the water, a nod to the black hole coffee in “2 ou 3 choses je sais d’elle”.

    I personally don’t see anything to suggest that the car accident was dreamt up wish fulfillment on Paul’s part. It may register flat narratively but that’s because “death is no solution” and doesn’t resolve anything. Except for Lang who will finish shooting his film but whether Paul can pick up and fulfill his ambitions is…doubtful to say the least.

  22. Arthur S. Says:

    I personally think Animal Welfare is a good cause. And I don’t see blonde hair(and is Julie Christie blonde? she always seemed a brunette to me) as having to do with it.

    That said it is how people treat humans that mater and BB has lost all her beauty, all her sexiness and has become a complete racist. Talk about ravages of time.

    But we’ll always have LE MEPRIS(the rest of her films leave me iindifferent).

  23. Godard’s mother was killed in a car accident — recreated in Le Mepris. He never got over it, as is obvious not only from Weekend but his use throughout his career of automobiles as harbingers of the ominous.

  24. Very nice post. I just saw Contempt for the first time, and I think it’s now my favorite Godard film. Like others, I’ve had some issues with his portrayal of women in other movies, but Camille is the best female character I’ve seen from him so far.

    One thing I find interesting about the story is the idea that her contempt for him can begin so suddenly, triggered by the interaction with Palance. But their argument in the apartment brings out a lot of other issues, which seem like they must have been there for a while, although unspoken and maybe not even something they were consciously aware of. e.g. his angry “Why did I marry a typist?!”, or when he asks why she looks pensive and she says something like “I happen to be thinking about something. Does that surprise you?” He does not see her as an intellectual equal, and she knows it.

    Another thought — it’s funny how we, and the characters, think primarily about her contempt for him, when there are also many indications of his contempt for her: the car ride incident (at worst, he’s trying to pimp her out; at best, he’s still ignoring her obvious discomfort); the typist comment and other remarks; the slap; etc. Is this just because she is more explicit about SAYING that she feels contempt / no longer loves him? He seems totally unaware of his own feelings.

  25. There’s nothing wrong with animal welfare, I just wonder at it attracting so many actresses — even before the present celebrity craze for good causes.

    If you search Google for images of the Great Julie, it’s about 50/50 blonde/brunette.

    Car accidents generally seem arbitrary in movies, so whether or not Paul dreamed this one up, it’s a good illustration of Lang’s point, solving nothing.

    Scorsese seems to admire Bresson but I don’t think he relates to him, even as a Catholic filmmaker. So he doesn’t reference him.

    The cars in Alphaville are pretty scary too.

  26. Arthur S. Says:

    Pauvre Jean-Luc…

    I believe Anna Karina’s character in Bande a part is named Odile in honour of Mrs. Godard.

    Cars figure ominously even in NOUVELLE VAGUE which is set in Switzerland, who have given us both the Cuckoo Clock and Jean-Luc Godard to make up for the 400 years of peace and brotherly love. I believe the story is set close to Godard’s childhood home.

  27. Paul’s obliviousness to his own emotions is a very male vice, I think. He also seems to suspect that money and the apartment matter more to her than in fact they do. He’s pretty insecure. You’re quite right to draw attention to his contempt for her, Iris. The movie may have a misanthropic side but it doesn’t play favourites.

    I find Karina usually adds a redemptive quality to JLG’s portrayal of women, because she’s so interesting, even if the characters are sometimes mannequin-like. But BB is definitely human, and I gather his recent work has outgrown the dehumanized figures that crop up with regularity in the 60s films.

  28. Iris, you’re quite right about the character’s emotional progression. Camille’s contempt for Paul is triggered by his pimping her out, but it doesn’t gather full force until the argument scene in the aprtment — where recrimination piles atop recrimination. In some whays she might have started out as casually annoyed, but the argument brings out her contempt in full. And this is all done as they’re parading about casually in various forms of semi-undress — as would be likely for a couple having a casual afternoon tryst. But instead of sex we get this contretemps.

  29. Yeah, I do like Karina in those films, even when I’m kind of bothered by the portrayal of her character. Looking at IMDB, I just realized that I’ve seen almost all of Godard’s early to mid-60s films, but nothing after that! I guess I should think about this some more after I’ve, uh, caught up on the last few decades…

    Another thing that apartment scene does very well is show how she is testing him. At some points she sounds like she doesn’t really mean what she’s saying, but is just trying to get him to say *something* that will reassure her. In a way it’s just like the early scene where she’s asking if he likes her body, only this time he’s getting all the answers wrong…

  30. What’s striking to me is how with this movie it totally makes sense to discuss the characters as though they were real, and analyze what their behaviour signifies. And that wouldn’t be the case in a lot of JLG films.

  31. All this talk of ominous cars reminds me of Patrick Hamilton, who I think Mr Cairns is a big fan of, and the way, after he (Hamilton, not Cairns) was almost killed and permanently disfigured in a car crash, cars as evil and arbitrary death machines kept reappearing in his books.

  32. And J.G. Ballard, of course.

  33. Hamilton almost lost his nose in the crash and had to have it reattached. He kept using the street where it happened as the setting for bad things in his books. We will encounter Mr Hamilton next week as we look at Rope…

    Ballard had been in several accidents, but hadn’t been seriously hurt, I think. His obsession is formed in that scene in Empire of the Sun where he watches American planes bombing the prison camp, while spying on Miranda Richardson making love to her husband at the same time. A link between eroticism and vehicular homicide is forged for all time. Fitting that this should come to us by way of the director of Duel.

  34. Ballard’s wife was killed in a car crash.

  35. No, it was pneumonia, while they were on holiday — but it was practically as sudden and catastrophic as a car crash.

  36. Just a couple of ex of movies based on Moravia:Peccato che sia una canaglia(brilliant),La ciociara(ok),Ieri, oggi, domani(2nd part only is based on;very good).

  37. Blasetti and De Sica — I guess he was pretty well served by the movies, old Alberto.

  38. Arthur S. Says:

    ———————————————————–
    What’s striking to me is how with this movie it totally makes sense to discuss the characters as though they were real, and analyze what their behaviour signifies. And that wouldn’t be the case in a lot of JLG films.
    ———————————————————–

    Well the dramaturgy in CONTEMPT is more accessible than others I suppose. But I think Anna Karina is certainly real in VIVRE SA VIE, as is Marina Vlady in 2 or 3 Things… and the lead of UNE FEMME MARIEE are certainly drawn properly even if the way its narrated is distanced and digressive. Then in Hail Mary!, Mary is a real presence. Oh and so is Jean Seberg in BREATHLESS.

    Where it gets complex is PIERROT LE FOU, the characters are at once over-the-top critical devices and three dimensional personas. In Bande A Part however, the three misfits are tangible characters. Godard was interested in people and actors, he just wasn’t that interested in putting them across the old fashioned way.

    In Godard’s most recent film NOTRE MUSIQUE, the story is again non-existent and you need to see it twice or thrice to get the film but again the beauty and the poetry of the sound and image gets to you in a way like few films do. NOTRE MUSIQUE is interesting because Godard himself is in the film and he comes across as a similar sage like figure as Lang does in CONTEMPT. One difference is that Godard allows himself a little gag to poke fun at himself. At the end, Godard is in his garden and he hears a phone call and raises his head so quickly that he bumps it against a pole.

  39. Is Hitchcock’s Rope the subject of Film Club 3 next week?

  40. Perhaps one of the best Moravia adaptations is Francesco Maselli’s “Gli indifferenti”, with Rod Steiger, Claudia Cardinale and Paulette Goddard.
    I used to be a big fan of Moravia’s work. I even read him in Italian.

    I recall seeing a very moving and honest television interview with Rod Steiger not long before he died. He was one of my favourite actors.

  41. No, Rope is just the Hitchcock Year entry on Wednesday. I’m thinking of Rules of the Game for Film Club. Easy enough to see, lots of people have already seen it, and I for one need to see it again.

  42. Arthur S. Says:

    I second it.

  43. I’m not a huge fan of Rules of the Game. I prefer La Grande illusion. I saw it on the big screen. A wonderful experience.

  44. Arthur S. Says:

    La Grande Illusion is okay with me, too.

    Renoir never made a bad film so any Renoir is okay.

  45. ———————————-
    Renoir never made a bad film so any Renoir is okay
    ———————————-
    Agreed. When it comes to Renoir, there is ‘un véritable embarras du choix’. His English language films such as This Land is Mine and Woman on the Beach are great too.

  46. Rules of the Game is on YouTube. Nora Gregor is always worth seeing.

  47. Je me prefere Le Crime de M. Lange et Boudu Sauve des Eaux.

  48. J’adore Boudu beaucoup.

  49. I’m excited about seeing Lange and Boudou but they’re a little harder for people to get DVDs of, so I thought Rules would be the most accessible. I should see those others soon also. I’ve only seen Rules once, and Fiona has never seen it, so it should be an interesting experience.

  50. I’ve been too busy to Film Club this week, and feel strangely uninterested in revisiting Contempt, but I’m in for Regle du Jeu for sure.

  51. Cool! It’ll be interesting to see if we can find anything new to say about such a celebrated film.

  52. Intriguingly, I just watched Andrezj Zulawski’s L’important c’est d’aimer for the first time, only to discover that it’s a back-to-front, upside-down cover version of Contempt. Similar use of Georges Delerue, similar love triangle, but told from the point view of the Palance character (in this case a pornographer, Fabio Testi, who is trying to mount a production of Richard III so as to rescue actress-on-the-skids Romy Schneider from her dead-end life with a husband who wants nothing more from life than to collect classic Hollywood 8X10s). I thought I was imagining it until the film’s most crucial scene centred on the husband, Jacques Dutronc, accusing his wife of feeling nothing but contempt for him. Oh, did I mention Klaus Kinski, channeling Karl Lagerfeld, as a gay Richard III?

  53. Blimey! I thought The Goodbye Girl boasted the only gay Richard III. A friend met Zulawski recently, and found him fabulously indiscrete, especially on the subject of Romy.

    Must watch that one — and soon!

  54. Well, Kinski plays a gay actor portraying Richard III rather than a gay Richard III but either way, it’s one of his best performances, subtle and moving rather than scenery-chewing. Also you get to see his famous ‘Kinski spiral’ in full effect, as he spirals all over the stage. Even his fingers are hunchbacked!

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