1963: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
I've long considered Paul Schrader the most articulate chronicler of The New Hollywood, that unusually great period for American cinema from approximately 1967-1980. In much the same way, I've always felt that Jean Douchet, more than anyone else, excelled when it came to looking at The French New Wave. In his fantastic book, appropriately entitled French New Wave, Douchet makes the following statement:
"This young generation felt that beauty was refracted through goodness and truth, lucidity and struggle, in short, by a spirit of resistance, and that ugliness often prolonged a collaborationist mentality..."
This statement rings especially true for me because when I think about some of my favorite French New Wave films, aside from their infectious playfulness, the thing I love most is their startling beauty. Take Contempt, for instance, which I consider in the following way:
1. One of the five most beautiful scores in the history of film.
2. One of the five most beautiful women, also in the history of film.
3. One of the five most beautiful color films ever made.
4. Some of the most beautiful footage of water ever put on film.
5. And one of the most beautifully perfect endings of any film I've ever seen.
I think people sometimes forget this aspect of The French New Wave. Sure, there was an emphasis on a certain looseness and a more naturalistic approach. But that was always at the service of esthetic beauty and lyricism. And, when it comes to beauty, of all the French New Wave films, I put Contempt right up there at the very top.
Other contenders for 1963: I have some things I still need to see from this year. These include: Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (a bit embarrassed about this one), Luis Garcia Berlanga's El Verdugo, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence, Joseph Losey's The Servant, Robert Wise's The Haunting, Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor, Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor, Alain Resnais' Muriel, Jacques Rozier's Adieu Philippine, and Elia Kazan's America, America. I haven't seen Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies since we watched it in high school English class. So I need to revisit it at some point to know where it'd place on this list. I really like Orson Welles' The Trial and Martin Ritt's Hud. I love John Sturges' The Great Escape and Stanley Donen's Charade. And my closest runner-up is Luchino Visconti's The Leopard.
1/5/11 I watched William Asher's Johnny Cool. It's a worthwhile noir, very obscure, that I was happy to catch. Henry Silva is fantastic as the titular character. And the opportunity to see a pre-Bewitched Elizabeth Montgomery is a real treat. Has a nice naturalism to it and some memorable, raw moments, particularly the bomb in the swimming pool.
5/12/11 I watched Forough Farrokzad's The House is Black. This short film has a huge reputation, and I was very glad to see it. There's a certain poetry in it and an unflinching determination to show leprosy in a non-judging manner. I admired it, although I can't say I was particularly engrossed in it. Perhaps I am too uncomfortable with the subject matter. Whatever the reason, the experience was more one of admiration than feeling.
5/15/11 I watched Robert Wise's The Haunting. Did not really do much for me. I didn't find it terribly atmospheric nor frightening. But Wise does demonstrate some inventiveness in terms of moving the camera.
5/17/11 I watched Ingmar Bergman's The Silence. The first half felt incredibly alive, sexually charged and quite unlike anything else I've seen from Bergman. But the second half settled into heavy symbolism, Bergman's usual fascination with human pain and suffering, and lost much of its vitality and interest for me.
6/14/11 I watched Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Several of the sequences are absolutely masterful, including the beginning and the ending. And Fellini certainly shows himself to be one of the most uninhibited filmmakers to ever work in the medium. But his taste for absurdism keeps me at a distance, and as personal as the film may be, I still find it a bit cold.
7/15/12 I watched Elia Kazan's America, America. Although thorough, clearly personal, and more often than not visually stimulating, I also found it uneven and overlong. I prefer Kazan in more intimate registers.
5/19/14 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Les carabiniers. One of those early Godard films I could not find when I first started getting into JLG and then that I kind of avoided thinking it nearly unwatchable. Well it is a tough watch. But it's interesting in its deadpan tone and its unexpected lyricism that emerges at moments.
11/29/15 I watched Terrence Young's From Russia with Love. Often considered one of the very best of the Bond films, it is pretty taut and well-conceived. Personally I found the girl lacking much interest but was fascinated to see Robert Shaw in such an early and strong performance.
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